This post is part of a series about re-thinking my relationship to food, which I call “The Saint Diet” to remind myself that the ultimate goal is deeper union with God. You can read all the posts on the subject here (scroll down to see them all).
A while back I began researching Christian perspectives on dieting, and over and over again I came across the concept of turning any food issues you have over to God. I knew that many addicts recovering from substance addictions cite that as a key step in their recovery, it sounded like a good thing to do, and I even had begun to understand what “turning it over to God” meant in a general sense…but I wasn’t sure how to do it with food issues.
I took my best guess, and when I embarked on a new eating plan this past summer I decided to incorporate this advice and turn it over to God. My prayer of surrender went something like:
“Lord, I can’t do this without your help. I need your assistance to reach my ideal weight of 155 in 12.5 weeks with the three-phased, 17-step diet plan that incorporates the No-S principles with the South Beach Phase II eating plan with a twist of the French Women Don’t Get Fat philosophy that I came up with. Please give me the strength to make my Excel weight loss chart look the way I want it to. Amen.”
Basically, I thought of God’s role in the process as being my diet cheerleader. I had it all figured out, I knew what the perfect plan was based on my own intellect, and I just needed God to sprinkle some magic dust on it to make it all work out. (In other words: I didn’t get it.)
Then, a couple weeks ago, Yaya was here to watch the kids and I found myself with a large block of time to get some writing done for the book about my conversion. I’ve been stuck on a particular part for a while, so I decided to take a pen and paper and work through it at Adoration. I was so excited: hours of free time to sit in the beautiful Adoration chapel, to be in the Lord’s presence, and even to write — what a great day!
On the way out I stopped by my mom’s house to drop something off, and she offered me a small bag of gourmet Chex Mix-style snacks that she’d received in a fancy Christmas gift basket. I knew that this was exactly the type of processed food that I should be avoiding. But I was awfully hungry, and I didn’t have anything else handy to eat, and it did say “whole grain” somewhere on the bag, and it was a special Christmas basket treat…the rationalizations continued from there. I took the bag and decided to just have a couple bites until I could find something better to eat. As always happens with simple carbs like this, in a blur “a couple bites” somehow turned into “shoveling one handful of food into my mouth after another.” My body was sending me ridiculous signals as if I would instantly die if I stopped eating, desperate for the “rush” these crunchy little pretzels and chips gave me. I arrived at the Adoration chapel with an empty bag.
At first everything was wonderful. I closed my eyes and cleared my mind for a while and cultivated a still, receptive, prayerful state of mind, simply basking in the palpable peace of the Lord’s presence.
And then the crash started.
That familiar old angry fog descended upon me. I couldn’t think clearly. Things I hadn’t even noticed before like the lady behind me breathing heavily or the sound of cars driving by outside began to seem absolutely intolerable. I felt angry. Writing seemed like a stupid waste of time; actually, everything seemed like a stupid waste of time. My head hurt. I would have traded my car for a Coke or another bag of chips. Mainly, I just wanted to go to sleep. Even though I was well rested and had felt great all day, my energy level dropped off a cliff and instead of praying or writing I found myself staring at the row of chairs next to me, wondering if anyone would care if I just curled up and passed out.
I was in such a bad mental and physical state that 90% of my resources now had to be used to just not go to sleep on the floor or turn around and yell at the lady behind me for breathing. The still, small voice of God that I had been so connected to when I was in a calm state was still there somewhere, but I had to strain to hear it through the crackling static of the fatigue and irritability that now consumed me.
Though I go through this every single time I ingest simple carbs, the effects were far more noticeable in Adoration. There in the silent chapel, stripped of the distractions of day-to-day life that vie for my attention, the full weight of what I was doing to myself hit me. Not only was I obviously throwing my system way out of balance and undoubtedly doing slow but steady harm to my health, but I was doing something else that might even be worse:
Throwing away hours out of my life.
The opportunity for hours of prayer and reflection was now gone. I did muster up some prayers and manage to scratch out some writing, but it was all while functioning with the limited resources of my body’s survival mode, where growth is impossible. This was God-given time out of my life that I could never get back, and I’d thrown it away over a bag of snacks. What was worse was the knowledge that I did this almost every single day.
It was at that moment that I think I finally understood the concept of surrender.
All sorts of hidden reservations that I hadn’t even realized I’d been clinging to (“I would never do a diet plan where you can’t weigh yourself, ” “I would never cut out all sweets, ” “I would never give up wine or chocolate, ” etc.) were washed away by the tidal wave of my sudden awareness of the damage my actions were doing. I still had the usual exasperation with myself for getting into this state, but I was also now filled with a profound humility; thinking back on the almost two decades of yo-yoing through this same cycle almost every day, knowing that these foods are bad for me yet never managing to get them under control despite repeated earnest efforts, I fully understood what it meant to say “I cannot do this on my own.” A herd of sacred cows was ushered out — the insistence upon seeing results on my timetable, the desire for total control, the vain fixation on fitting into those cute size 10 jeans, the refusal to consider giving up favorite foods for the long term — and what was left was just a clear, open space; a space that finally had room for God.
I have no illusions that it’s all fixed now and my struggles with this issue are over; in fact, I know that the real work is just beginning. I also understand (and am surprisingly at peace with) the fact that it could take weeks or months or even years to see any real improvements. The change that has taken place is not one of the problem going away, but of my mentality toward the problem undergoing a cataclysmic shift.
I asked myself recently, “What makes me think this time is different? What makes that I’ve really ‘surrendered’ anything unlike my previous failed attempts?” And I think the answer is: because I finally want God more than I want control.
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