One-year anniversary of freedom

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Scales in bathroom

It was a year ago today, 5 December 2015 that I walked away from my self-imposed dungeon sentence of measuring my worth by what I weigh.  I had lived in that dark and despair-filled place since my junior year in high school. And I’m almost 60!

But after MANY years of pain and many attempts to free myself, God gave me the courage to let the scales and a number go.

I have felt SO free this year.  No more early morning self-condemnation.

Instead, I TRY to measure my day by pleasing Him.  How?

  • by relying on His Spirit to do every task in the day.

Do I forget?  Yes, but encouragement from other Christians retools my focus. Just last week a gal wrote about battling unbelief.  The takeaway for me from her article was this:

Each hour I DON’T pray, I’m saying to God:  “I got this next hour, God.  I don’t need your help!”

John 8:36 – So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free

Perfection and futility

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clay pot  “There I go again!”  as hammering self-condemnation reprised.  I had just done what I didn’t want to do, overeat.  Nothing really sinful in that per se, except that overeating is a gateway to my sin of self-centered, interior moping. More familiar than any other melody is my original adaptation of the human ‘Ode to my Pitiful Self’.

But thanks be to God and Bible-centered preaching and writing! Pastor and teacher John Piper rescues imperfect sheep prone to turn inward by proclaiming a recurring life-giving message of: “Don’t waste your disappointments, trials, suffering, failures,……”

God must have thought it was time to break my bent towards control and perfection with this sovereignly ordained ‘trip-up’.  So what galls me the most?  What sends me into despair each time I let myself down and overeat? Certainly not His condemnation, but MY disappointment with myself.

Here’s the rub:  Why am I even surprised that I can’t do what I want to do?

Like Paul, I wail: I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15

“Stupid!,” this home-grown expectation or gateway toward self-chastisement. A recent podcast drove that home.  The speaker had been in therapy for a broken marriage and started to heal when she made the connection between her:

  1. Assumption that I CAN be perfect (do what I want to do)
  2. Anxiety over the burden of trying to be perfect
  3. Bondage to control in order to gain perfection

I suddenly saw the futility when I realized that we were never meant to strive for perfection.  In fact, God has intentionally designed us the opposite!  The human model comes with abundant limitations.  We see them as flaws; He ordains them as gateways for God’s glory and grace to show.

...we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 2 Cor 4:7b

Breakable clay is the term for earthenware. In Paul’s time, vessels, plates, jars, cups were made of a clay mixture containing oyster shell pieces. God has purposefully made us out of crumbly stuff.  The Almighty Father and Creator made us delicate and fragile so that we would depend and rest on Him to do all that He calls us to do.  He didn’t aim to populate His kingdom with self-sufficient, sturdily consistent perfect little beings.

That is good news, brothers and sisters.  Let it go, all those expectations of how you want to act.  Yes, we are called to be imitators of Jesus, to be holy because God is holy.  But He knows we are going to blow it, multiple times a day.  Why are we the last to accept that?

Holy Spirit, remind me straight away when I miss the self-assigned mark I naïvely think will make me feel good about myself.  Grow me a new song,

a melody of music“Here I go again, a perfectly designed child of my Father who just sent me a love note that says, ‘Maria, come to me with your mess; don’t be surprised, you just need to give it a rest and flop down and swim in my grace and love!‘”

 

 

Love my boundary lines!

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Sheep in a pen

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Psalm 16:6a

My thorn in the flesh that keeps driving me back to God in desperate need is my tendency to overeat and then get down on myself. I thought I had been liberated from that vicious cycle back in December.  It was then that I renounced once and for all slavishly weighing myself and tracking my exercise day by day.  But then, 10 days ago, I noticed that a certain pair of pants felt tight.  Immediately I spiraled into fear and loathing.

In a nutshell, I suffer from conflicting desires of wanting both to be lean AND to eat as much as I want.  I also fear future hunger and despise feeling stuffed. Taking liberty with the apostle Paul’s cry,

Oh wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me out of this ….(ceaseless struggle!) – Romans 7:24

As I went round and round with God both in prayer and reading my Bible, He brought to mind that psalm snippet above about limits.  Yes!  I NEED boundaries, both to feel safe and to forget about myself. I’m not much different from a dog that escapes from his restrictive yard only to find himself in a big, scary world on the other side.  Once he’s back home on the safe side of his fence or wall, he might then trust his owner’s wisdom and leave off future waywardness.  Actually I bet a dog needs far fewer repeat lessons than I do! After all, I’ve been fighting that wall with God since I was 16.

The Holy Spirit also reminded me what I have recently absorbed, that as Christians, our primary ministry is to our family. For me, my husband must be my focus. And if I am sucked inward, feeling bad about MY body, MY choices and MY satisfaction, I am NOT ministering to this man God has lovingly brought me.

Quickly my plea for guidance, “What am I to do, Lord?” turned into thanksgiving and praise for His Truth revealed in my heart.

Yes, I DO need limits and they DO make me happy.  Once THAT fact was settled, what I was to do fell into place.  No, I would not go back to weighing myself each day.  But I could cut out certain foods and reduce my portion size of others.

And if those parameters are what allow me to forget myself and focus on Mike and others in my sphere, then they truly ARE my happy limits.  Staying INSIDE the parameter is best.

Well, what about this fear of hunger and desire to eat abundantly?  I MUST ‘risk’ taking God at His Word and rely on His promise that I can do ALL things through him (Christ) who strengthens me – Phil 4:13. And all things means happily living with limited portions and occasional hunger pangs. For ifGod is leading me to stay within my boundary lines, then what He commands me to do, He will likewise enable me to do with Holy Spirit power.  As a Christian, it’s a fact that the Holy Spirit resides IN me. 2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has NOT given us a spirit of fear, but One of love, power and integral/sound thinking.

Moving from believing THAT God….to treasuring Him

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Apparently 75% of Americans say they believe in God. Source of statistic here.  Sounds like a lot until you realize that 100 % of Satan’s henchmen believe God exists, for they rebelled against Him!

James writes in 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

Demons believe

Therefore, the frank acknowledgement that there is a god is insufficient. One obvious problem needing clarification is just who is this god that people identify?  Wouldn’t it be more useful if pollsters helped responders spell out just what KIND of god they believe in?

Let’s assume, for the purpose of this blog, that we have clarified and agreed upon the one and only true God. A problem remains.  Is it enough to believe that this God is real?

No!  And if that answer bothers you, then good!  But don’t despair if you suddenly fear that your belief alone is insufficient.  Read on:

I, myself, was assured this morning that I am a Christian and not someone akin to the demons.  For it IS a frightening assertion that belief alone in the existence of God does not make one an adopted child of the Father with all rights and privileges in his Kingdom.  Many people followed Christ during His public ministry, but very few were ‘His sheep’.  Why did they seek Him?  Food that doesn’t run out, replenishing buckets of water, healing, political solutions, purpose and identity come to mind.

John Piper, whose teaching continues to edify my faith, proclaims that valuing God for what He can do for you is not what it means to be a Christian.  That is a perverted version of ‘believing that God exists and is almighty’.  Saving faith is treasuring Christ more than anything He can do for you or give you.

Trembling like you might upon hearing this narrow definition, I often ask myself, “Am I a real Christian, then?”  For I DO appreciate all that Christ HAS done for me and promises to do.

But the Holy Spirit gifted me this morning when I was listening to one of Piper’s sermons.  God brought to mind my attitude toward God as a teenager attending church with my family. During my junior year of high school I fell into the horrible and frightening pit of binging and vomiting – bulimia. No amount of resolve broke the cycle.  Sunday after Sunday, I prayed in that same pew that God would remove this problem.  I knew enough about God’s previous miracles to believe that He actually could deliver me from this nightmare.  But He didn’t and I’m glad.  For I wasn’t seeking Him, just what He could do for me.

A couple of years into married life, the VERY bad news about my rebellion against God confronted me in a gospel-proclaiming service so unlike the pleasant, but anodyne church of my teen years.  If I thought the bulimia was my biggest problem……… (and I’m embarrassed to admit that I did – I used to smugly boast:  ‘My only sin is overeating!’)….. THE frightening and very real fact of God’s wrath against me was a categorically different crisis.

Both Mike and I gratefully grabbed the gift of pardon and adoption when offered the only remedy – Christ’s substitutionary death and life for us.

Did God then remove the bulimia?  No, not right away.  That deliverance did come a few years later when I was carrying our first son.  But more remarkable than that, God has undertaken to open our eyes to the wonders of the gift of salvation and all that awaits us.  I revel and marvel daily that before the creation of the universe, the Triune God planned for me to be one of His adopted kids with full rights and an inheritance and a future of endless joy far greater than the happiness inherent in freedom from food addiction.

The apostle John says in 1:12 – But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name.

John Piper explains that it takes a miracle from God to change our desires. We can’t make ourselves savor anchovies if we’re wired to gag every time we pop one in our mouth!  Only the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power removes the lure of cheap delights and creates hunger for the Bread that never perishes, Jesus Himself.

So, if you have ANY interest in Jesus or in reading your Bible, take heart. That’s a permanent holy gift planted in you by our loving Father. Thank Him for it and pray that He would cause your enjoyment of Him and His presence to grow, surpass or replace anything that either this world offers or He offers. Treasuring Him over His gifts is the goal that promises both to glorify Him and satisfy us.

 

 

The danger of freedom

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I’m learning to think through what I hear in sermons and what I read.  When God wants to impress a truth on me, He tends to funnel the same message through multiple media.  The lesson last week that perked down into my resistant sinful pattern of thinking was: It’s not about me!

Before you scoff at how obvious that message is, let me assure you that it is VERY counter-cultural.  As pastor John Piper teaches, our society has been saturated with the mantra of the importance of Self-Esteem.  And you know as well as I, that a lie repeated oft enough takes on the weightiness and respectability of Truth.

self esteem

We slavishly work to think well of ourselves or gather praise from others.  That need becomes more than something nice to have.  It becomes our master, our God, and we its slave.

The other day, though, I was given a new thought.  I was feeling ‘sick of myself’ – just tired of thinking about me, what I eat, what my body feels like, how I’m doing with that perpetual thorn, how it’s the lens through which I view the world, the regulator that governs how much positive energy and interest I give to others.  Gradually, a life-altering truth took on substance:

  • It’s not about me.
  • It doesn’t have to be about me.
  • I don’t HAVE to even think about me.
  • Thinking about me doesn’t bring me any joy or energy.
  • I can actually be freed from thinking about me.
  • In point of fact, it’s about Him.  I exist, the birds sing, the trees sway, the oceans roar, the stars glisten, all of us alive to make much of God!

I had gone to bed the previous night with such new inklings swirling about in my head.  And when I awoke and greeted the gravel road for my morning walk and conversation with God, I started to think about me, as ‘per usual’.  But suddenly, the fragrance of freedom tickled my nose and I looked up at the stars and said:  I don’t HAVE to think about me today.  I’m FREE!!!

Well, if I’m not pondering me or my problems, then what am I thinking about when not occupied with teaching or conversing with someone or reading?  In all those interior, unencumbered moments, I get to mull over what makes our God so great.  And in fact, the Bible promises that far MORE joy, TRUE joy comes from those God-truths than any introspection.

  • Psalm 1:2  (How happy is the one who….) delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night.
  • Psalm 119:97  Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long

There’s also that statement of fact in verse 11 of  Psalm 16In your presence is fullness of joy….. I don’t think the psalmist is referring just to when we are in heaven with Jesus.  We are present with Him in a conscious way when we are thinking of Him. Therefore, joy comes from shifting the focus of my waking mind off of ME and onto God.

All day long, I felt like a little child, giddy with delight over a secret treasure.  I would stop and reflect, “Why do I feel so happy?” and then all of a sudden, the truth would flood back. “That’s it!  I don’t have to think about me!  I’m free!!

ball and chain

Do you want to know what happened that night?  I risked sharing this oh-so-tenuous feeling of potential permanent freedom with Mike.  He got it, what I was feeling.  All was well. We were enjoying some close moments of joy that come from sharing truth about God.

We sat down to our treat of dinner on trays and another episode of Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. At the conclusion of both, a tiff flared up ‘out of nowhere’ that isolated us one from the other. Mike headed down to the smoking cave in withdrawn silence and I mulled over delaying a grace-filled loving response to his probable text apologizing for his anger. “I want him to know how it feels to be the recipient of his chill!” I selfishly thought.

I sat down to read the paper and sure enough within 10 minutes, ‘ping!’, the apology popped up.  But his words changed my feelings.  He wrote: “I don’t know what came over me!  These feelings came out of nowhere!  I’m confused and hurt!’

Suddenly, I knew.  It was spiritual attack.  I immediately closed ranks with my husband.  Fingers flew furiously as I consoled him that none of this was about us, but about a new God-truth, that promise of freedom he and I had rejoiced over.  Satan does NOT want us to trust God.  He works to thwart that glorious Freedom from Self.  This enemy of God also wants to disrupt and destroy married couples.

With that life-restoring revelation from God, our conversation whipped back and forth as we discussed this dark assault.  We moved closer together but weren’t quite restored.  More conversation by email brought light and by our evening reunion, we were back on the same side, glad to be reunited.  But we were more aware of the need to remain one with each other, with God at our back, our side and in front.  He is our sure refuge in times of trouble AND in times of blessing.  Blessings can be dangerous, too, if we are not aware of our vulnerability.

PS:  It’s been 4 days and that freedom from self IS authentic and available anytime I want to let go of the boring!

The twin evils of smugness and envy

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I was feeling smug. Admiring my ability to juggle this and that. Compared to others.  Evaluating myself next to another sister. He pulled me up short. As realization of sin spread, so did horror.

Juggling life

“I repent, Lord! Forgive me! I see! Truly! I humble myself. You don’t need to do anything else to get my attention. Seriously!”

 

For what had flashed across my consciousness about God was this:

“You, the all-wise and infinitely good God, have perfectly arranged this fellow Christian’s plate with the appropriate palate of weaknesses, strengths, characteristics, bents, abilities, talents, habits (good and bad), circumstances, and experiences all intended for her to grow in the knowledge and love of your Son. Every piece on that plate of hers is necessary to her sanctification and growth in holiness. You planned each one, the good and the ugly!”

And You have done the same for me. Who am I to boast about this or that as though they were due to my efforts and smarts? All along You are the one who has traced out our paths? And more pointedly, who am I to complain about the potholes in the road if they are according to Your will?

“Father, I see that this constant comparing of me with others produce either envy or pride and both are evil! Deliver me from these sins, please! Pride says: Look at me!  Envy says: You are a bad God not to give me what I want/deserve!

Since that day a week ago, He has continued to show me that He does indeed ordain and govern all circumstances. Because He is in charge of every molecule in the universe I can trust what He commands me to do:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6-8

Not evaluating, not judging the circumstances of others is wise. That’s God’s business. Do you remember Peter’s comment to Jesus as told by John after Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples post resurrection?

“So Peter seeing him (John) said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man? Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’” John 21:21-22

Several times a day as my smug-o-meter rises, (that is – when I awake to this sin), I put myself back in my place. I say to myself:

“Maria, you have died! And the life you now live, you live by faith in Jesus. (Gal 2:20) That is to say – you move and live and have your being attached to Him. If there be any good in your life, it is only good because of Him. So give it up, this thinking that there is something good in or about you alone!”

That truth not only humbles me, but it liberates me. Since all that is good in me through faith is a gift, I don’t have to worry about earning it. And since Jesus has given me the most costly gift, Himself, I can trust Him to give me any and all such that He deems good for me for godliness and life (2 Peter 1:3)

PS:  When I caught myself later on in the week doing my ‘I’m-so-good dance’, I realized that God was showing me a specific way to PRAY for this fellow Christian.  Again, I repented.  We are all different, intentionally.  He has arranged each of us in the Body of Christ as He sees fit.  Therefore, we are to encourage and pray for one another. It’s in our best interests, after all.  Another gentle smack-down!

The Christian, freedom and failures

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My school is one of those progressive institutions.  As such, they have embraced the concept of Failure as something positive.  Picking and choosing practices from other educational models throughout the country, our school leaders have sought to implement a healthier ethos.  The rehabilitation of Failure is part of current changes. Apparently, girls have historically viewed Failure as the dreaded ‘F Word‘.

But thanks to Tavis Smiley, talk show host and author of a 2011 book on learning from mistakes, a way to assess flops has reached even our grade-school girls.

Fail up

Teachers at my school tweaked Smiley’s catchy phrase: ‘Fail Up! to create the moniker ‘Fail Forward as a way to encourage our students NOT to be discouraged when at first they don’t succeed. After a few months of hearing their teachers preach the benefits of failing forward (aka, learning from one’s mistakes) this phrase now quite easily rolls off the tongues of our grade-school girls.

That entire preamble to set the stage for my recent failure to stick to a decision I had made for the 5th? time in my life and announced to those who read this blog.  I had resolved NOT to feed the idol/slave driver of the bathroom scale.  I carried through for 5 weeks, feeling ‘free’, once I broke my morning habit.  And for a while I thoroughly enjoyed NOT having my status beat me up at ‘0 dark30‘ each new day!

Then one morning, suspecting that I was gaining weight, I stepped on the scale. Did I talk first to God or even reason through the possible consequences?  Didn’t even cross my mind!

To my dismay, I found that in 5 weeks I had added more Maria to the planet!

Spiritual warfare broke out with an explosive roar as God allowed my trust in His goodness to be evaluated.   The test (….ultimately designed to strengthen my faith) boiled down to this:

  • Was I going to employ my only offensive weapon (God’s Word of Truth), specifically His promise that I had been meditating on and ‘preaching’ to my husband?

1 Peter 5:7 – Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you

Sword fight

 

 

 

Did I really believe that even THIS problem/burden was something He could and would take care of for me, if I heaved it into His lap and left it there?  The torturing dilemma was this:

  • What am I going to do, now that I’m gaining weight?
  • Yet I also desire NOT to be enslaved to the scale!
  • How am I going to eat?
  • How am I supposed to think about food, my body, the scale and ALL that?

I wrestled with my unbelief, confessing and repenting multiple times as my mind darted back to THE BURDEN.

But God…..(wonderful, life-giving words of hope) gently through a persistent hint of possible resolution and peace, brought to mind a plan to cut back just a little each day.  And to weigh ONCE a week to verify if this change might work. I would reassess WITH Him once enough weeks had gone by.

Furthermore, through listening to the quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada’s reflections on thanking God in the midst of her pain and severe limitations, I was reminded to thank my heavenly Father for strong legs, health and a clear mind.

I immediately wrote out a prayer asking God to give me both the desire AND the strength to follow through, in total reliance on Him.  That was a week ago.

The battle has been fierce at times, revolving around the fundamental issue of trust and gratitude.   At times I’ve entertained the idea of just hopping on that ‘evaluator’ THIS morning.  After all, the temptation is not to do something morally wrong or explicitly condemned in the Bible.

But God…..at those moments has sovereignly and lovingly directed a devotional or segment of His Word to address:

  • my lack of belief in His promises
  • my disobedience
  • and the sin of doing something NOT for the glory of God

(1 Cor 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God)

Yesterday was Saturday – my first ‘weigh-in day’ since this battle broke out again.

Drum roll

I was down 2 tenths of one pound.  (thank you, Lord, for this evidence of your grace).

To encourage me, I also ‘stumbled‘ upon my new favorite verse: 1 Corinthians 6:12

The French wording of this verse feels more personal and is easy for me to grasp, so I’ll quote you that, together with the direct translation of those words:

This is the Apostle Paul reminding us, his Christian sisters and brothers, of the freedom we have in union with Christ:

  • Tout m’est permis.  Everything is permitted me
  • Certes, mais tout n’est pas bon pour moi. For sure, but everything is not good for me.
  • Tout m’est permis, c’est vrai.  Everything is permitted me, that’s true.
  • Mais, je ne veux pas me placer sous un esclavage quelconque.  But I don’t want to put myself under any version of slavery!

Whether my past two weeks is an example of ‘failing forward’ as my school sees it, I know one thing for sure! (Certes!):

  • for Christians, God promises to work ALL things together for our good, as part of His plan and purpose to conform us to be like our older Brother, Jesus.

 

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