"Up next, celebrity diet and fitness secrets."
That greeted me as I turned on my television to see a perfectly coiffed early morning host smiling as if the diet and fitness secrets of celebrities would be very best thing ever and watching it this morning would make my entire day. Pretty much before coffee, I'm game for anything. My brain has yet to be turned to the full "on" position, so I plopped down on my couch and drank my coffee. And watched.
Surely their secrets are something amazing that no mere mortal could ever know, like they eat scorpions for dinner or belong to some secret cult that has the one and only ancient diet book that allows for chocolate and wine and no exercise and a skinny little tush.
But no. You know their secrets? They have personal trainers who work them out for an hour or more each day. They have cooks who fix their meals. They have complexes that manifest in eating disorders. Or perhaps all three. And most of them are the size of Thumbelina. One of the perks of living in New York was that I got to see celebrities up close and personal. One, they look a whole lot like the rest of us when their cadre of hair and makeup people haven't spent hours on them. Two, they could fit in a teacup. Most celebrities are about four feet tall. Or at least Sarah Jessica Parker is.
I want the stories of the single mom who works full time with two children and still manages to be fit and healthy. That's who morning hosts should be interviewing. I don't want to hear about celebrities who have made bad relationship decisions that caused them to move from their manor home with fourteen hundred acres and fifteen hundred servants and who "found" themselves while making a new album, all fortuitously filmed on a faux-documentary. I want to hear the true stories of people who own their own scars, who didn't need to be saved by a new record album or a new book, but who dropped into the great deep of their own shadow and found their light. And for the last time, I'm not that interested in how anyone should decorate anyone else's home. Everyone listen up - it's your living space. Decorate it how you like. If I don't like it or your kids don't like it or your neighbor doesn't like it, that falls into the category of our problems, not yours. As long as you aren't hoarding cats or creepy dolls, enjoy your surroundings.
That's the real secret, isn't it? That there are no secrets or short cuts to health and fitness, physical, emotional, or spiritual. We cannot lose twenty pounds in ten days or find ourselves on a single retreat experience, especially since the real work of God begins when we are open to losing ourselves within God. We cannot shore up our fragile interiors by sprucing up the exterior. Paint a rotten wall, and it may look pretty for a while, but the wood is still falling to bits underneath. There are no secrets for becoming comfortable in one's own skin. There are no secrets for learning to trust God's voice within ourselves. There are, however, ample opportunities for denial and avoidance.
Except they don't necessarily look like denial or avoidance. They look like rational, justifiable things to do. And in our first few decades of life, they are completely necessary. During these years, we spend energy piling on the lines of our resumes, working to get into the right clubs, climbing the right ladders, measuring up to the right people's opinions, and getting the right jobs. Everything looks good from the outside. Perhaps our spouse looks lovely from the outside. Perhaps the job seems fine.
And then, one day, we have the opportunity to look around at our lives, our very carefully constructed around expectations and appearance selves, and realize we have a choice. This opportunity almost always looks and feels like our world crumbling down around us. The marriage isn't working anymore. We are burned out in our job. We look in the mirror and wonder where the ten or twenty or forty pounds came from. So we are tempted to search harder for the secrets to make it all better.
Oh yes, we can search for the secrets. We can continue to build the tower, we can strive for the external things that will make us whole (or so we think), and we can continue to blame all of our disappointments on others. For some reason, when we really do get to the hard work, we start here.
Until we realize that path is well-worn and leading nowhere. After the fourth or fifth or hundredth trip on the long walk to the dry well, we can decide to stop. We can die to that whole veneer of exterior appearance and get to work on the inside. We can stop blaming others and take some responsibility for our own decisions, our needs and wants, and our frailties. Note to all: This process isn't fun or pleasant. As my parish hears me say frequently, there is only one way to Resurrection, and that's through crucifixion and rotting in the tomb for a day or month or year. I suspect that's why so many people stay on this side of life, polishing resumes and listening for the next great secret to being the perfect person or the perfect Christian or the perfect minister or the perfect whatever.
We can search for the secrets, but there are none. It's all pretty much out there, that getting our selves and souls in shape takes work. Hard work. Muscles ache. Souls wail. Hearts break. Expectations shatter. Even some relationships come to an end.
And then slowly, tummies tighten. The excess fat that we don't need falls away. The soul smiles, and life is renewed. We look in the mirror and like, even love, who and what we see - all of what we see, imperfections and fabulosity. Perhaps for the first time, we can truly see as much of our selves as we ever can on this side of the Kingdom, faults, flaws, and all. We engage in self-reflection and end the monologue of ego. Because when we strip away the externals, when we give up searching for the shortcuts and lose (or at least lessen) the worship of Self, we find that person God has been calling us to meet all along. The one who is enough and whole, and who recognizes that the secret to health and wholeness is a willingness to surrender what we want and follow where God leads, even when the journey is challenging and hard. We realize grace and God's love are free, but the rest of it takes some hard work. We drink our coffee and sing our songs, the one that sit deep within our souls. Whether we are in tune or not isn't relevant.
It just matters that we have the courage to sing, to be our truest self, completely open to God's siren song. No shortcuts. No quick fixes. No diet secrets. Just the willingness to engage in the soul work of life.