In many things, the part you want to get to can only be gotten to by applying pressure, turning up the heat; that’s when you see what’s really inside.
That’s why it says in Romans 5:3-4 that "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."
So let me ask you, what’s coming out of you when you get squeezed?
I did a retreat in Chicago years ago with women in a Korean church and we were talking about brokenness. I was making a point of how God brings wholeness through brokenness and to illustrate my point, I took a glass vase, a very small, thin glass vase, and I threw it on the concrete floor. It didn’t break. I thought, “Hmmmm…that’s never happened before.” I picked it up and threw it again….and then again…and then I picked up the still intact vase and just slammed it against the concrete wall.
I went over to it, picked up the still perfect vase, and got chills. God was teaching me that moment, and I could feel the Holy Spirit moving in my own heart. I looked up at these ladies and said, "Why don’t you trust God with your brokenness? You don't have to pretend to be perfect with Him. You must be willing to surrender your self-sufficiency and admit your need for the Lord if you truly want to know Him."
And then I really got brave and spoke about something that I know is an issue in many Asian cultures.
I said, "You are more concerned about appearances and saving face, and you refuse to expose your weakness. God says He loves you and He desires to do a beautiful thing in you, but you must be willing to be broken and cry out to Him for help."
There was silence in the room for a few moments and then I saw tears on the beautiful faces of those young women, some sobbing. God had their number. This issue of saving face and not appearing weak is one of the biggest barriers to an authentic relationship with Christ.
It says in Psalm 51:17, "My sacrifice O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, God, you will not despise."
And 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he 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.”
When you're being squeezed and the pressure is turned up, don't pretend you got this. Admit that you don't and cry out to the Lord for help. God wants to show up for you!
He will do something beautiful in you, and you will know Him even better, if only you would trust Him in your brokenness.
As much as I enjoy this fantasy that I’m a runner, I’m surrounded by some real runners in my family. My cousins Wendy and Chrissy have run half marathons.
I have friends that have done multiple full marathons and triathlons. I admire them so much, but I don’t run WITH any of them. Whatever that thing is that they have developed inside of them - that determination, that perseverance through the physical pain, that very low percentage of body fat… it intimidates me. I want it, but haven’t been able or willing to pay the price for it.
But, oh, if you were to see me run in the park!
It’s about 2.5 miles around, and I can do it without stopping. After all, I have done a few 5K’S which are longer than that. The problem is I haven’t been training like I was when I had a race coming up, so my stamina isn’t what it was. I was out there running one day last week and started out really well. I was at a good pace and hear come some folks from my church walking towards me. I love it when that happens. You see people you know at the park and they just happen to catch you when you’re rockin’ the run. That’s what happened. To them, I looked like a real runner. They smiled and said hello and gave me the thumbs up and nod of approval as if to say, “You go girl!” I enjoyed thinking about them talking later about how “that Tracey is quite the runner, isn’t she?”
The problem is, this path at the park is a big circle around a lake, so people you see coming toward you, you will see again, eventually. My run started off great, but soon I was sucking wind and slowed down to a walk. I was enjoying this pace, until I saw up ahead, through the trees, them coming back again. The church folk. So I timed it just right, and started running again just so that when we passed one another, they would catch me in a beautiful gazelle-like stride. Once again, I got those big approving smiles and even a little hand-clap. Oh, yes, I am a runner. To them.
You see, I can do a little work and make it look like I’m a legit runner, if you catch me at the right time. But you put me out there on race day with runners and spectators, a real course, and a chip in my shoe that’s timing me, and the truth is gonna come out.
Many of us try to live our spiritual lives the same way. We admire people with such a mature faith, who know the Bible so well and carry themselves with a peace and a confidence that is rare. Sure, they go through hard times, but they just seem to come through with even more strength than they had before. You want what they have. You’d like your life to look like that, but you can’t fake being a Christian any more than you can fake being a runner. Sooner or later the trials are going to come, the squeeze is going to be on, and what’s really on the inside is going to come out. Even if you’re able to somehow manage behaving in such a way others may think you’re legit, the truth will come out sooner or later who was really your source of strength.
And here’s the thing. It might be fun for a moment to “act” the part of whatever it is you’d like to be, but there’s nothing like the real joy that comes from doing the real work that’s required to accomplish the goal.
To be a runner who can run a marathon, you’ve got to train.
To be one of those Christians with that steadfast faith you admire, you’ve got to train…and trust.
Train by seeking the Lord and pursuing real relationship with Him by studying His word, worshiping Him and living in obedience to Him. It is, as Eugene Peterson says, “a long obedience in the same direction.”
And trust. The hardest work has already been done by Jesus on the cross on your behalf. Trust in Him.
The overflow of a life lived like that will bring you more than a nod of approval from people. It’s the pure joy of hearing your Savior say the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
- 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have theSon of God does not have life.” - 1 John 5:12
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” - Jeremiah 29:13
The scale is your friend. Except when you’re busting your butt to lose some weight and it’s not moving. Then, it becomes the most discouraging, de-motivating, obnoxious thing in your home. Then you’d like to throw it out on I-95 during rush hour… or take it back to the store because clearly, it must be broken. Then, drive directly to your favorite diner and have some pie. Or a whole pie! Because nothing you do differently, seems to matter.
Ok, I admit it - I may sound a little angry right now. I am.
I have worked hard to lose weight and I did lose about 60 pounds about 2 years ago. I kept most of it off but then, over the fall, my old default mode kicked in and I started using food for comfort. Again. I got on the scale and realized that 12-15 pounds had snuck back on and my battle wasn’t over. I never really thought it was.
This weight thing I’ve struggled with for years is like my thorn in the flesh and I have always feared it coming back on me like an old addiction. I will be 49 years old this year, and this thing I’ve battled for decades is still a struggle. You feel me? Or maybe you don’t?
Unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to identify with this struggle. And so, with that in mind, I write this to you. For all of you who by the grace of God, have been either genetically blessed, consistently made wise choices with food and exercise, or who maybe even struggled long, long ago, but figured it out. Consider this an open letter from your friend Tracey. In no way, does this letter represent everyone’s process and story, but I do believe there is enough commonality here, that many can relate to it. So here it goes…
Let me start by saying, I am not jealous of skinny people. If anything, I admire the inner strength that many of them have to fight their own demons a different way. I have always fought my demons with food. I can remember when I was about 14 years old, my mother and step-father were getting divorced and I suddenly became insatiably hungry. I never connected why. I was athletic and didn’t have a weight issue at all and so I probably burned up all those calories up so no one knew, except me and God… that I was eating like crazy during that time. Anything I could get my hands on. Which at 14 years old, was usually breakfast cereal. Did my mother ever wonder why a box of Apple Jacks or Raisin Bran would disappear just days after bringing it home?
It was the first time in my life I can remember using food to help soothe some inner anxiety I was feeling. It didn’t work. It only took the edge off for a short while and left me all alone. A few years later, my mom re-married and my mom, sister and me, moved into his house. Their first year of marriage was a difficult one and while I tried to press through their late-night yelling matches, I was getting hungrier and hungrier. I started to gain weight and between the age of 18- 20, I had probably gained 60 pounds. Still not connecting why I was so hungry, I eventually married and gained more weight. To be lonely as a single person is one kind of pain. To be lonely as a married person, is a slow death.
And so I took a lover. Food. And once again, food let me down. It promised me a quick relief to my deep pain and quick relief it was, as the pleasure centers of my brain would go wild with happiness with a sugary treat or late night Taco Bell run. But as soon as that wonderful feeling faded, I was alone again wondering what I could do to make the pain stop. Food was never a good boyfriend. So I’m not quite sure why I rang him up again this year, while I was dealing with some private pain, but it turns out, I still had his number- and he still had mine.
Here are some things to know about those of us who fight this battle that may help you in your relationships:
- Be supportive- not superior. If you are blessed enough to have never dealt with this struggle, be thankful and humble while you support your friends’ umpteenth attempt at losing some weight. We haven’t given up- so don’t give up on us. Just because this isn’t your issue, doesn’t mean that you are a better person and have no issues. We are all fighting battles. The weight issue is one we fight publicly for everyone to see. What’s yours?
- You are not the food police. There is nothing I hate more than people seeing me out somewhere and critiquing what I am eating. You have no idea how I’ve eaten all week, or all day.. When people say to me, “Tracey, I don’t think that is on A Better Weigh..” I want to say.. It’s not. But I burned 900 calories at the gym today so shut it.
- Shame is a big thing. Many of us that battle our weight deal with this. So please.. don’t “should “ on us. You should this and you. should that… Choose your words, your timing and your tone carefully. We want your love and support- but as soon as it turns to judgment, I feel shame and won’t hear another word you say.
- Lead by example. You want to be a great encouragement? Model good choices and healthy living. Show me what it looks like consistently. If you know I’m struggling, maybe you could skip dessert one time when we’re out to dinner and not tell me how great you’re doing with food and how your clothes are all loose and maybe we could even talk about something else. Beating this thing is possible and it’s a process. I am so much better than I was. I actually caught my issue before I needed to grab another size out of my closet and I am back on track. That is a victory for me.
- Be thankful. If you’ve lost weight and you’re doing great- I want to cheer you on and I want to hear about it. But… be careful. Be reverent and thankful to God for your success. You have no idea what hard life stuff could trigger those old demons to come back. And if they do, I don’t want shame to keep you from trying again and staying in the process.
- Pray & Think. If you know someone you love is going through a hard time emotionally and food has been their go–to source of comfort, pray for them, and offer some fun, healthy alternatives to get them through this season. Have some social gatherings that don’t center around food.
I hope this is helpful as you relate to people you care about who struggle with weight. I am currently trying to lose some pounds and I am working out almost every day, even using an amazing personal trainer. I am eating very healthy and sticking to my diet plan with a few exceptions- like Ravens football games… And that blasted scale is barely budging. I actually cried this morning when I got on it because I’ve been working so hard and I don’t understand.
As my trainer Chris Welsh says to me, “Come on Tracey. You can do this You’ve got this. Keep going”, slowly the old negative tapes in my head that say, “I can’t do it”, will be replaced. And while the scale may not show it just yet, I know that like a seed in the ground, there is something happening underneath the surface that is producing in me a beauty and strength that will be evident one day. I can feel it. God is in this with me. Unlike food, He is a great source of comfort and peace and I am still learning how to be satisfied in Him.
Have you ever noticed that we never ask someone “How was your year?” We ask about their day or their week. In the right circumstances, maybe even their month. But you never ask someone about their year. It is too much to convey in a few words. We have highs and lows. There may have been a marriage, a baby, or a first home. There may have been a divorce, a parent’s death, or a bankruptcy. There may have been some of both. How do you balance out the good from the bad over the last twelve months?
God didn’t make us to live twelve months at a time. He gave each of us one life to use as we see fit.
“Already There” is the latest song from Casting Crowns, and this lyric has been running constantly on the iPod in my head:
“One day I'll stand before You
And look back on the life I've lived
I can't wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit”
God created time for us to mark things down, but He already stands at the end of time as we know it. One day we will see how the celebrations or tragedies of this year fit into the larger picture He has painted for each of us. We will see how our actions, our words, and our lives have affected so many because our one life is the picture within the picture of all He created.
As the New Year approaches, think on this: instead of making a resolution to change one thing in your life, focus on changing the one life you are living.
When it comes to kites, I don’t pretend to know what I’m doing. A few years ago, quite spontaneously, I bought a kite in a shop on the boardwalk in Ocean City, MD, and so began my infatuation with them. It’s kind of like when there’s a dessert that you can only get in this special place and you don’t get there very often but every time you’re there you must have it and it thrills you like the first time. It’s a special joy for me when I get to the beach and just around sunset, I get out there with my kite.
No one ever showed me how to fly a kite. I just strung her up and went for it. Someone who knows what they’re doing may be mortified at my lack of expertise. This last time, I had actually threaded the kite backwards! It didn’t seem to matter. You see, the wind in all its invisible glory, is far more powerful than the kite.
It’s almost as if the kite has no choice but to radically obey the twists and turns of air that take it wherever it demands. And the beauty of seeing something so completely surrendered..,this is what takes my breath away.
We are a people who protest when anyone tries to tell us what to do or where to go. We have this crazy false sense of autonomy. We think we know better. I don’t know about you, but me being in charge of me, hasn’t worked out so well.
I am certain I am at my best, when I am a kite...and the Holy Spirit picks me up and takes me farther and higher than I ever imagined.
And so, yes...I tear up when I fly a kite. Part of it is just the joy of seeing such a tangible expression of freedom and grace and imagining that this is what we were made for. The other part of it, is simply regret. For all times I thought I knew better and resisted what God was desiring to do in me. For all the times I resented His plan and His power to direct my life. For all the ways He took me in directions I never wanted to go and I kicked and screamed all the way ...while all He was trying to do, was bless me.