There’s an old adage: “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”. In areas like business and athletics, and probably many other areas of endeavor, there’s a lot of truth to this saying. Professional runners often gauge their performance these days in hundredths of a second. Businesses measure everything from customer satisfaction, to order fulfillment and of course revenue, profitability and so on. In recent years however, this penchant for metrics has drifted into our personal lives especially in areas such as wellness and finance.
We are now told how many helpings of fruits and vegetables we should have per day. How many steps we should be walking daily: 10,000 (are you kidding me?). What is our ideal BMI (Body Mass Index), or ideal weight for us simple folk. There’s targets for our blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides (I can never remember what this last one is), and the list goes on. On the finance side, we’re told how much money we should be saving to live some sort of idealized retirement. On a more humorous note, I had a financial advisor once ask how long I plan to live. I was tempted to suggest we drop to our knees and ask for divine guidance but wasn’t sure he’d appreciate it.
Many of these guidelines are indeed useful in how we live our lives. And should and do add a little pressure to modify our behaviors. However, as with so many other things in life, we need to maintain a balance. Measurements such as the one’s mentioned above, can create the illusion that we are somehow in control. That if we behave in a particular way, certain outcomes will be achieved. And that if we don’t accomplish our desired objectives, then there’s a problem. This is a perspective largely encouraged by our secular society (mainly with the intent of selling us stuff), but is quite the opposite of the gospel message. Yes, we are meant to try our best, and care for and respect all of the gifts given us by God including our health. But we can’t become overly focused on our perceived flaws or needs, in case it leads us to anxiety, or perhaps even worse, a sense of superiority when we are successful. Moreover, it’s worth noting that struggling with our personal challenges is a key part of our spiritual journey.
Jesus told His followers in Matthew 11 that: “His yoke is easy and His burden light”. This wasn’t meant to convey that if you follow the gospel teachings that your life will go swimmingly. Jesus knew that our lives would be difficult often with outright hardship. His core message was that God loves us and doesn’t place demands on us. (Jesus railed at the Scribes and Pharisees for the onerous rules under which the Jewish people had to live.) The core message Jesus wanted us to get is that we are loved unequivocally exactly as we are. And that we are meant to accept and love ourselves and others too, exactly as we are.
So do your best with those 10,000 steps, 8 glasses of water, 5 servings of vegetables, or whatever the health gurus suggest. But don’t stress if you come up short. We are not meant to live in a state of anxiety (the opposite of faith). The Franciscan priest and author Fr. Rohr likes to say: “It’s heaven all the way to heaven and hell all the way to hell”. Meaning it’s really about doing your best and muddling along right here and right now. Probably why it’s called The Good News!