Searching for a Formula

“People like you and me,” my mom said, “we like formulas.”

I nodded emphatically.

“Just give me a plan and I’ll follow it!” I emphasized.

“But there isn’t a formula,” she replied.

I knew it was true. It had always been true. That’s why I felt so frustrated trying to find the right answer to everything. There just isn’t one. It takes more than willpower and discipline to automate everything in your life. I thought that’s what I wanted, but turns out, it’s not. It takes saying no to living. It takes denying your own humanity.

I’ve been there.

I love plans and to-do lists and schedules. I love success stories of people who made their dreams a reality by following three simple steps, and the apps and software that helped them do it. 

Counting calories and macronutrients, and timing my workouts just right became a formula for me. I lost fat, but I also lost my sense of identity. I achieved my weight goal, but I was going through the motions in my life. I felt like a caricature of myself – outside looking in, like I was living someone else’s life. Nothing brought me joy, not even being thin. My lifelong goal of being skinny only brought me fear that I would lose it. 

Budgeting became a formula for me. Creating a spreadsheet or using a budgeting app gave me control over my finances. That was good. But I started obsessing about it, checking the budget daily, and always making sure I was still “on track” to achieve my goal. 

Reading my Bible became a formula for me. I joined a group at church that used the acronym “SOAP” for Bible journaling. As we read, we wrote a Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer. On the days that I didn’t make any observations or specific applications, I felt like a failure. So I dug deep and came up with anything that sounded remotely spiritual so I could write something in my notebook. I believe God still spoke to me through those times, but I sometimes felt forced and insincere.

In all of these examples, as soon as I discovered I couldn’t adhere to 100% of the formula, I gave up on the plan entirely. With food, I stopped counting any calories and just ate whatever I felt like. With budgeting, as soon as a line item didn’t line up the way I had tried so hard to make it, I pulled out my credit card. With Bible reading, as soon as I didn’t have time or desire to fill out the entire “SOAP” acronym, I took the whole week off of Bible time.

How crazy does this sound? It’s extreme, isn’t it?

I think that’s what trying to live by a formula does to you. We’re not machines. We’re not robots. We’re people. We bring our whole selves to every job, relationship, task, or environment we enter. That includes emotions, baggage, physical needs (sleep, food, water), and unique perspectives on the world. 

Formulas don’t leave room for those things. Formulas don’t allow for laughter, conversation, or margin. That’s OK if you’re a spreadsheet, but not if you’re a human. Humans need margin. 

When we leave space for life to happen, sweet things like grace, fun, joy, gratitude, humor, growth, and patience fall into the cracks. 

I’m taking a step away from my natural bent of pursuing the most efficient and streamlined process for everything I do. I’m trying my hardest to lay down the graph paper, calculators, and formulas, and just live. Because looking for a formula to direct my life is a wild goose chase. And life is too short for those.

Are you with me?

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