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The Great Pumpkin (Bread)

My outstanding military career was hopelessly sidelined before it even began. Because I’m fat, and I can’t run. Nevertheless, I’ve always considered myself a fighter — more champion than advocate — fierce, fearless, tough.

But I’m totally not.

This week has proved it to me, as if I needed another reminder. Though, I guess I did.

This week, I’ve been engaged in an epic battle. With a loaf of homemade pumpkin bread.

I can’t know what you must be thinking. Who fights with pumpkin bread? Or bread of any sort? Well, I do. Because I’m fat, and I can’t run.

For nearly a year now, I’ve devoted myself, with varying degrees of intensity, to improving my fitness and eating habits, and (cue the hallelujah chorus) hopefully losing weight. My weight story is pretty much like everyone else’s. I lost control of my eating habits, gained a bunch of weight, tried a bunch of shock-and-awe diets, lost weight, felt great for a second, then gained it all back. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So a couple decades pass, and while I’m still unsuccessful, I have learned some things along the way. Diets don’t work. Ever. I won’t keep the weight off, because I cannot hope to continue the desperate and usually unhealthy path that got me to my fragile success. I’m eating better than I ever have, thanks to meal planning, learning to cook, and tracking my food intake. I’m learning how to still be me at a lower weight and healthier lifestyle. All of that’s good. But I still have so far to go.

I still eat my feelings. When my feelings are hungry, I run to the nearest junk food aisle with reckless abandon. Nothing else really matters. There’s no control anymore. That’s a problem. It’s a problem akin to alcoholism and drug addiction, in that I don’t have control and I’m doing it to the point that I’m harming myself. My eating has become “pathological.”

path o log i cal | adjective | : extreme in a way that is not normal or that shows an illness or mental problem

Ouch.

Labels suck, but there’s no point in trying to talk myself out of it. I looked it up, and it’s true. What to do?

So I decided I would just tough it out, and schedule my way to freedom: if I created a rigorous schedule for every day wherein I unfailingly did all the tactical things that need doing to lose weight, I’d inevitably be successful, and also wouldn’t have time to think about my feelings, much less eat them.

Yeah, that didn’t work either. But I have had some time, while slogging away on my elliptical machine for an hour every day, to think about things.

And to pray about them. Because the most important thing I put in that rigorous schedule of mine was time to pray and read the Bible every morning when I get up. To be honest, it’s the only thing in four years that I’ve found worth waking up early for. Except Christmas, but that’s a different post. At any rate, I’ve been praying about this weight and fitness thing, but also that God would give me a sense of purpose — a better understanding of what it is he really wants me to do, apart from my weight. To that end, I’ve actually been reading the Bible and studying it like I haven’t since college. Because when you want to hear from God, the Bible is the natural place to start. He has a lot to say in there. I wasn’t looking to study the Bible about weight loss; I was actually following a Bible study curriculum and just seeing where it went.

Here’s what I’ve discovered:

Hebrews 12:1: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

Now I don’t know if you share my sense of irony, but if you do, you can imagine my reaction upon reading this verse amid my weight struggle. I was also in the process of wrapping up a Couch to 5k program, running for the first time since college.

It’s these kinds of coincidences that make me smile and shake my head at how well God knows me and just how to get my attention. I used to think I caught on pretty quickly to things, but I’m impenetrably thick when it comes to the lessons of the spirit. Thankfully, God speaks my language when I’m listening.

Something else in this verse got me thinking that maybe my weight issues have something to do with sin … Sin that easily derails me. Hmm.

And then I read James 1 for a church Bible study. It had a lot to say that hit home.

James 1:2-4 (MSG) “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

My struggle with weight loss is a test I’m failing. I’ve been failing it for years. That’s a big deal for me … The only other test I’ve failed in my whole life was my first driver’s test, and even then I got it on the second try. I’ve been failing to manage my weight since I was a teenager. I didn’t really think about it as a test from God, though, until reading this passage again. It hit me when I read the part about trying to get out of trials prematurely … That sounded a lot like dieting to me.

It finally occurred to me that I’d been missing the point.

I began to realize that this weight thing wasn’t about weight. Or food or eating. It’s about my faith-life, and God teaching me to trust in Him instead of in, well, food. That looks stupid in print, but it’s real and I’m not alone in it. Because I wasn’t the one who coined the term “comfort food.” Or Overeaters Anonymous.

I decided to think more about this. Maybe over breakfast. Maple syrup, anyone?

James 1:5 “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally without criticism; and it shall be given you.”

The Message translation puts it like this: “if you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.” I love that. Because I really feel like a loser over the whole weight thing. It seems like everyone else has figured it out, and I’m still here fighting with myself.

So I asked God to help me with this eating thing again. But why, WHY is it taking so long?

James 1:12: “Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.”

It’s taking so long because I’ve been acting like it’s about weight — treating the symptom and not the cause. But it’s really about fixing what’s broken inside me, and if God can help me crack that code, I win. Aha, there’s an upside! Excellent. Learning to take my feelings to God to sort them out, instead of distracting myself with manufactured salty-sweet food-like substances, will first improve my faith and then improve my fitness. And my self-control obviously needs some work, too.

Great! When do I start? What do I do first? Is there a menu plan? I think I will make a list of action items.

After a solid 20 minutes of full devotion to my list (I’m exaggerating; it was at least a month), still no results. Mostly because I couldn’t manage to comply with my own list. An hour on the elliptical can’t undo lava cakes as a bedtime snack.

Romans 8:5-6 “Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them — living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end. Attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious and free life.”

Is it just me, or is it really amazing how all these verses seem to have something to do with fitness? Wasn’t fitness the goal I’ve been praying to God about? Um, yes.

Isaiah 30:15: “Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me — the very thing you’ve been unwilling to do!”

Oh, the dreaded “D” word. But I’m supposed to be INdependent! I’m a strong woman, sufficient unto myself.

But no, I guess I’m not. If I were sufficient unto myself, I could get a grip on this weight thing, and I just can’t do it. I’ve tried everything I know to do, and the worst part of it all is that I, myself, am the only thing sabotaging my efforts. And I’m doing it with full awareness most of the time, powerless, it seems, to stop myself.

The only thing left in my way is … Me.

James 1:13b-15: “God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way. The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us.”

So God told me to get out of my own way and stop trying to save myself. And then he said he would help me:

Isaiah 30:18, 20-21: “But God’s not finished. He’s waiting around to be gracious to you. He’s gathering strength to show mercy to you. God takes the time to do everything right — everything. Those who wait around for him are the lucky ones … Just as the Master kept you alive during the hard times, he’ll keep your teacher alive and present amount you. Your teacher will be right there, local and on the job, urging you on whenever you wander left or right: ‘This is the right road. Walk down this road.’”

I was gearing up for this spiritual food warfare, and feeling pretty good. Then I got in an argument with my husband. Feelings. Hungry feelings everywhere. I’ll show him!! I’ll eat something! I think I still have that loaf of chocolate-chip pumpkin bread in the freezer. He doesn’t even like pumpkins.

So now there’s a slowly thawing loaf of pumpkin bread on my kitchen counter, and the epic battle begins. Because a little voice in my head said don’t eat any of that.

I ate a slice anyway.

My WeightWatchers points budget for the week said you can’t afford to eat any more of that.

I had two more slices to numb the guilt I felt over the first one (pathological, remember?).

I was even reading a book — “Made to Crave” by Lysa TerKeurst — all about denying self to cultivate self-discipline. I was soaking up chapter after chapter, slogging away on the elliptical machine. It reminded me of verses like this one:

1 Corinthians 10:23: “Everything is permissible — but not everything is beneficial.”

Then I’d hop off the elliptical, shower and go about my  day. My kitchen is in the center of the house, thus forcing me to walk past that bread I left on my counter dozens of times a day.

Perhaps I should move the bread, I thought. But no, I might want some later. I shouldn’t have it. But just in case.

I paced around that bread for hours, debating, conniving, scheming — desperate to convince myself that it was a good idea to eat this stupid little piece of pumpkin bread. Moist, wonderful pumpkin bread. With little mini chocolate chips in it — the kind that are so light they stay evenly distributed throughout the batter so you get chocolate in every single bite! And it’s only food — if I just eat it instead of making such a big deal about it, it’s fine, right? Why does everything have to be spiritual?

Throw it away, a little voice whispered in my mind. No, it’s perfectly good bread. Homemade even. 

Then give it away. The pesky voice wouldn’t quit. Maybe later, I deflected.

2 Corinthians 10:5: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Obedience. First dependence, now obedience. But the truth of my runaway thoughts was impossible to ignore. I was clearly supposed to choose God instead of this pumpkin bread. It was my Alamo. My Normandy. My last stand. I could feel it. What person wouldn’t pick a loving, all-powerful, merciful God over a slice of pumpkin bread?

This girl, apparently. I had another slice. And then I was horrified.

James 1:22-24: “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are or what they look like.”

Ouch. That mirror thing got to me … I’ve been there. Like when you’re walking around town thinking you’re looking all good and suddenly catch your reflection in a plate-glass storefront window. Gasp! So I DO look fat in these pants!!

I was spending the first three to four hours of my day studying my Bible and exercising my body, Scripture verses coursing through my veins. And then I’d fight and argue with the “next right decision” all day until I eventually gave in to self-indulgence. Over pumpkin bread, of all things.

I am anything but obedient. I am saturating myself in God’s word, praying, exercising, planning, tracking my food — I’m doing all of the things I’m willing to do, and ignoring the parts I don’t want to do. Like giving up that stupid pumpkin bread. I want an action plan – I want to DO something – I want accolades and awards for winning victory over food addiction. My pride is even bigger than my dress size. Just look at how many of these sentences start with “I.”
I need to get over myself. Because it’s not about me. Or about the stupid (but tasty!) pumpkin bread that has been on my counter for days now. It’s about the reasons I choose the pumpkin bread instead of choosing obedience to God.

I got up this morning, like usual, and settled onto the couch with my bible. Like usual, I had to walk past that pumpkin bread to get from my bedroom to the couch, and I just shook my head at how much energy I’ve put into deciding whether to eat it or not. If I had just thrown it away, or better yet, given it away to someone else, I’d have saved myself heartache AND fat grams. I’m reminded of a verse in Matthew where Jesus says to come to him, all who are heavy laden, and he will give you rest. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. That never made sense to me before … Until this ridiculous pumpkin bread helped me realize that had I only submitted to obedience, I’d have spared myself this week’s whole mental debate. And I never would have missed the pumpkin bread. Because at the end of the day, it’s pumpkin bread, not a blood transfusion.

I give in, God. It’s your way. Just tell me what you want me to.

By the time I reached my couch, my mind felt lighter. I flipped my Bible open to read a passage in Romans I’d been looking for. I didn’t understand it in the King James, so I opened the Bible app on my iPhone to check out another translation. The Message is pretty good for putting Scripture verses into layman’s terms. At random the Verse of the Day on the app was this:

Ephesians 4:1-3: “In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk — better yet, run! — on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline — not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.”

Have I mentioned how awesome God is? Ten minutes didn’t pass from the time I prayed, “Just tell me what to do” until he showed me this verse that says “here’s what I want you to do.”

Sometimes our faith can be shaken. But more often, my faith shakes me up. It is real. He is real.

And I am going to be obedient. Because the road God called me to travel long ago has to do with grace and pencils. He gave me words to pour out in love, in worship, in humility. Words not about me, but about him.

Now, I think I’ll go for a walk, perhaps a run … And maybe feed the rest of that pumpkin bread to the birds along the way.

But he [Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10