Monday, May 28, 2018

Less of Me and a Little Learned

On the morning of March 9th, the day after I turned 45, I did something I never thought I would. I walked into a weight loss clinic. It’s hard to convey with words the feelings associated with that act. Embarrassment, failure, admitting that I was one of, “those people,” all of it was present to a palpable extent. I even saw someone I knew and turned around in the chair in which I was sitting so that I wouldn’t be recognized. 

This probably reads like a pathological sense of denial. “Dude, just look in a mirror,” that sort of thing.

What you have to understand, though, is that I never thought of myself as fat. I just wasn’t thin yet and there’s a big difference. At least there was to me. I was always 3 months of no junk food and working out 5-days-a-week away from making serious progress and showing real results. I wish I had a dollar for every time I walked into the gym thinking, “Ok this is week one. Get to week 12 and you’ll look and feel different. All you have to do is bear down and make it happen,” and it had worked in the past. Back in 2015, I’d put together 4 months of awesomeness and gotten down to 159lbs. I did it once. I can do it again.

Problem is, it’s not 2015. I’m not 42. I’m 45 and with every advancing year the margin for error gets smaller and losing weight gets harder. 3 weeks of momentum can be lost in a single meal and those meals come around all the time, especially for someone in full time ministry. 

Most get togethers for pastors take place over food and whenever someone heads out with their pastor, they view it as a treat and so we should eat good (which invariably is bad from a health perspective). Staff meetings should be fun every now and then. You have to build up morale don’t you? And what’s more fun than going out for something great. These are all excuses mind you but when excuses are easy to find, it takes an unusual amount of will power to keep the bad at bay.

This wasn’t close to my biggest problem though. I’d characterize that as two-fold. First, there was my attitude. I’m fine asking for help unless it’s really, really embarrassing or a serious point of pride. I can do this. I don’t need help. We’ve said it and heard it all plenty. Truth is, I pride myself on my perseverance. I can’t actually stand on my head but if I could, I promise, I could do it longer than you. You might be able to outwork me but you will never outlast me. So if it’s something like a diet, don’t tell me I can’t endure. I’ll do it out of spite if I must.

But the mirror told another story and so did the pain in my waist. I literally couldn’t sit down without my belt buckle digging into my belly. It physically hurt. Something had to change and so I heeded the million or so commercials I’d heard over the two sports radio stations to which I listen and walked into SOTA of Plano.

The program isn’t complicated but it isn’t easy either. They tell you what you can and can’t eat. They give you food products (I really don’t like the way, “product,” sounds – too artificial). You eat those every three hours along with approved vegetables for breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and then at dinner you get to add 6 oz of protein along with the aforementioned vegetables. No nuts, no fruits, and carbs are from the pit of hell. Oh, and you need to walk at least 30 minutes a day. You meet with a well dressed woman once a week who will encourage you and/or look at you like you just kicked a puppy. Follow their rules, though, and the weight will drop.

And it really does. In the first week, I lost eight pounds. In the first month, I dropped 22. We aren’t to three months yet and I’m down 40 (38.5 actually, I gained a little yesterday but more on that in a bit). There are side effects. You go through a two week carb withdrawal where you hate the world and everyone in it. There are digestive problems. Milk of Magnesia is now my version of Friday Night Lights and, as I discovered two weeks ago, my bad cholesterol doubled. Compare that to how being 5’5” and 203.5 lbs isn’t exactly life enhancing and I think the trade off is worth it.

Remember I said my real problem was two fold. Pride was the first. Here’s the second. It was the most significant thing that happened to me and it’s the reason for my putting these words on a screen. 

I always knew I had an emotional attachment to food. My parents divorced when I was 9 and my brother and I would take road trips with my dad to see my grandparents and that always meant fast food. I spent my entire adolescent and adult life soothing childhood pain with french fries and cheeseburgers that probably taste like masking tape but what do I care. 

The thing of which I wasn’t aware was how that pervaded basically everything I ate. It wasn’t that I didn’t look forward to the person with whom I was meeting but I was FAR more into what I was eating than the individual across from me. I take big bites of what I really like not because I’m hungry but because of how it feels in my mouth. That might sound messed up and it is but it’s me. I’d come home from work and my wife would be making dinner and I’d find out what we were having and, I’m not kidding, I’d get depressed. Beets? Who looks forward to beets? What am I a communist?!? Can’t we have mac and cheese too? Give me something! I mean didn’t I pay for this food? 

When anything is taken or withheld and we get angry, chances are, it’s an idol. That’s where I am. I worship food. It’s not like there’s a golden Twinkie on an altar in my office but you get the idea. Humans need food to live but I am desperate for certain kinds of food so that I can have a life worth living. Am I really expected to say no to Whataburger, Wendy’s, queso, and Sonic? Again, welcome to East Germany. No thank you.

What’s needed isn’t only an adjustment of a diet. I require a reorientation of the heart and I say, “require,” because it will be ongoing. I gained weight yesterday because I had lunch at an Indian buffet and, even though it was nothing but protein, two massive plates of chicken tiki masala is going to move the needle. I didn’t eat that much because I was hungry. I did so because I wanted to feel good. 

God gave us food. In fact, He gave us all good things in order to enjoy ourselves as we worship Him. The problem is when I want it to replace Him. Do I need a cheeseburger or do I need Jesus? That’s a question I will probably have to ask for the rest of my life. 

I’m thinner now but I actually still have a long way to go. My ideal weight for my height is below 150. I haven’t seen that number since 1991. My diet will end in about two weeks. I’m heading overseas at the end of June and I can’t be taking laxatives while walking the streets of Russia. At best, I’ll be below 160 and that’s fine. If it takes another 3 months to lose the last ten, who cares. What I want is to make the right choicesfor the right reasons. I need to put food in its proper place and look for the Lord to meet the deepest longings of my heart. If that’s you too, it’s ok if you need help. God’s grace never ends and He provides even in places like weight loss clinics.

Chances are something is competing for Christ’s place in your heart. Whatever that is, see it for what it is: an idol. Fix your eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. He is the Bread of Life and He is far more satisfying than a baguette or a bagel but don’t get me wrong, I really miss bagels!

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