Travel light

“Jesus commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only.” Mark 6:8-9

The point here is to get going, and then rely upon God. Once you get clear direction from God, it’s easy to dawdle, thinking you need to prepare more, get this or that in order, and so on.

If the instruction is from God, the right thing to do is get going. Part of getting going is realizing you can ‘travel light’, not depending on yourself but on God. This applies not just to physical stuff, but to mental stuff. You might think you need to get a Ph.D. before you can start teaching, or study every book before you can utter a word.

But if God is calling you, just get going. Those sorts of steps might happen along the way, but it’s easy to lie to ourselves about what needs to happen next.

First cast the beam out of thine own eye

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3)

1. Before you criticize someone else, look to yourself. Scour your conscience, and see if you do what you are about to criticize them for.

2. If so, first ‘cast out the beam out of  thine own eye’. This means working to change your own behavior first.

3. Once you have changed your own behavior, return and help the other person through constructive criticism, or whatever is relevant.

So the habit is to reflexively look to oneself before criticizing, and honestly search to see if one does the thing one is about to criticize someone else for.

It is easy for us to have blindspots about our own behavior, so this has to be an honest search. Take at least 1 minute to search.

The basic pattern is “this person is wrong about x” -> “do I do x in some way, shape, or form?” -> put in the work to change one’s own actions -> use that experience to help the other person.

The human impulse to blame others is at the base of scapegoating, which in turn is responsible for much of the problems in our own lives, and in the world in general. So, first look to yourself! This not only decreases the negative emotions in one’s life, it is ultimately empowering, as the spark that used to lead to blame begins instead to lead to an inner transformation that helps you and, ultimately, can help the person you’re about to blame.

Go into the desert

Many things can distract from a relationship with God. An aspect of the walking with God habit is to set aside time during the day, but it helps if this time is free from distractions, so you can focus on God. The internet, phones, even other people, all can act as distractions.

Just before Jesus began his public life, he went into the wilderness or desert for an extended period, and fasted. This place is characterized by an absence of distractions.

So, the ‘go into the desert’ habit is to set aside time each day, and longer periods of time at intervals, and create an environment that is relatively free of distractions, in order to cultivate your relationship with God.

Walks, hikes, time spent on an island away from regular busy-ness – all these things can be ‘going into a desert’, and can catalyze your spiritual life.

So, write down one thing you can do on a daily basis to create time with fewer distractions (perhaps turn off your phone while out on a walk), weekly (perhaps go for an hour-long hike), and then perhaps seasonally (for example, rent a cottage without the usual distractions nearby), and where you can spend that time focusing on God, such as the ask-listen-act cycle or opening up your heart.

If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out

“And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee.” – Matthew 18:9

This extremely important habit is the habit of avoiding negative influences. Jesus here uses hyperbole, as he does often, to make the point memorable.

In an age of unprecedented media influence, this habit is highly important. In many cases, it is literally images entering through the eye that offend (which here means to make one worse off). The habit is to routinely

  1. Identify sub-optimal influences.
  2. Take action to remove or reduce them.
  3. Notice if that action is working, and if not, modify your approach.
  4. Repeat until you have removed or significantly reduced the influences.

This applies to all sorts of things, such as television, internet, or people. Jesus’ point is not to hesitate to remove it completely (don’t just remove it but also cast it from you). It is easy to underestimate how difficult it is to remove such negative influences, and how much of a benefit accrues from filling your day with better influences.

You can ask yourself what are the top 3 negative influences in your life right now? Write them out. Then think up one action to remove or reduce each of them. Then take the first step to implement that action.

The point is to make actions 1.-4. into a habit – until it becomes a reflex to notice sub-optimal influences about you, and then remove them.

As you do this, you will begin to notice that the tenor of your days begins to change. You can then take it the next step, and search out influences that are good to replace the negative influences with.