excusing the things i don't want to do

I’ve killed about a half dozen starters in my six or so years of sourdough baking.

While I’d like to blame their deaths on the frigid winters of Boston and Chicago, in reality they have died in every season. Most often it’s even been in spring, when the weather is ideal.

The truth is they die because I fail to feed them. And for one, pitiful reason—I don’t feel like it. I walk past the starter day after day, looking hungry and thin, and I decide I just don’t feel like opening the lid and mixing in some water and flour. Even now, in this season when I’ve told myself I’m committed to baking three times a week, I continue to do it. I’ve looked at the starter sitting on my counter for the past four days and just don't feed it.

It’s not yet dead, but I know it’s pretty hungry right now.

 

Last week I was enticed by a Twitter headline: “How to overcome anything that keeps you from being productive!” Every day I feel guilty that I don’t accomplish more with my time, so I clicked through to read whatever wisdom the article might have to impart. It offered 5-6 different reasons that people fail to be productive (fear of failure, lack of organization, etc) and remedies for each situation. As I skimmed the article, none of the propositions resonated until I arrived at the final one: you don’t do things because you just don’t feel like it.

It’s not that I’m lazy. I accomplish a lot every day—usually I try to pack too much into my time. But rather than do what needs to be done, I often choose what tasks to accomplish based on what I feel like doing and I let the tasks I don’t feel like doing go.

I use the excuse that I don’t have time—I don’t have time to go to the gym often, I don’t have time to clean my room, I don’t have time to return the e-mails piling up in my inbox, I don’t have time to text that person back.

I don’t have time to keep feeding my starter.

But in reality, I just don’t feel like doing those things. So I don’t. Or I push them off until the time feels right.

 

The remedy they suggested was pretty simple: get over it. Do the things you don’t feel like doing. It sounds so common-sense that it’s silly, right? Of course I need to just do the things I don’t feel like doing.

But it wasn’t until I read this article that I even realized what was holding me back. I didn’t realize that the guilt I feel at the end of every day is because I don’t accomplish the things I need to do but don’t feel like doing. I didn’t realize that I’m totally capable of fitting those things into my day if I just override my feelings.

I create other tasks to fill my time instead of the things I need to do, then busy myself with those tasks to legitimize pushing off everything else. More than anything it’s a matter of control—I like to prove to myself that I can choose how to use my time.

 

Although not everyone is as driven by their feelings as I am, I think that we all to some extent ignore the needs around us simply because we don’t feel like facing them. We don’t feel like listening to the stories of those who are hurting, so we don’t. We don’t feel like looking our neighbors experiencing homelessness in the eyes, so we don’t. We don’t feel like getting to know the refugees that live down the street, so we don’t. We don’t feel like cooking or opening our home up to friends, so we don’t. We don’t feel like giving money to organizations that work against systems of poverty, so we don’t.

We don’t feel like acknowledging the injustice that permeates our world, so we don’t.

Instead, we fill our days with other tasks and convince ourselves they are important. Then we lament that we just don’t have the capacity to address the needs of everyone else.

 

Throughout these past few weeks of Lent, I’ve been continually drawn to Isaiah 58.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

The purpose of fasting is to set aside pleasures in order to focus more fully on God, to grow in our delight of God. To strip away the menial tasks that we use to excuse ourselves from the things we don’t want to do.

If our fasting does not lead us to face the needs of those around us, then we are doing it wrong.

If our time spent worshipping and praying and reading Scripture keeps us from seeing and hearing and meeting the needs of those around us who are hungry, who are fearful, who are hurting, who are cold, then we are doing it wrong.

We are merely using our fast as another excuse to keep from doing the things we don’t want to do. We’re using our worship as another excuse to keep from spending our own time like Jesus did: feasting with the most marginalized members of society.

 

Today as you bake, examine the tasks you push aside simply because you don’t feel like doing them. Examine the needs of those around you that you ignore simply because you don’t feel like addressing them. Identify the ways that you busy your mind or your time to excuse letting these needs pass you by. Pray for wisdom in how to better address them. Meditate on Isaiah 58 and pray that your fasting leads you to delight in God by loosing the bonds of wickedness, undoing the straps of the yoke, and letting the oppressed go free.