Zero Tolerance for Fearful Thoughts

Many of us have bought into the lie that we can’t choose our thoughts. Think about how often we say things like, “I can’t stop thinking about such-and-such.” Or how frequently we say we’re stressed when what we really mean is that we’ve worried ourselves into a frenzy. We talk about fear like it’s a wild animal that jumps out from behind the bushes, attacking us against our will and overpowering us. We’re far too tolerant of fear when we see it in this light—as a predator against which we have little recourse. It’s time to adopt a zero tolerance policy in regard to anxiety, worry, and fear.

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Fear vs. fearlessness is far more a matter of choice than we think it is. Granted, turning from fearful thoughts to healthy ones can require Herculean strength, but the fact remains that we can choose our thoughts, and we have a responsibility to do just that.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Love Pray, the author’s friend Richard instructs her to choose her thoughts like she chooses her clothes each morning. This morning, I sailed right through the task of choosing my blue and pink running shorts and a cotton T-shirt. It’s not as easy to choose certain thoughts and reject others, but it’s just as possible. Think about it: if we were powerless over fearful thoughts, God wouldn’t have given us instructions like this one: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8, NLT). I can name a hundred topics that are honorable, pure, excellent, etc. But anxiety is never lovely, and having cold sweats because you’re fretting about what might happen tomorrow is never admirable.

Once you commit to disciplining your thought life, and if you’re consistent even when various crises arise, you’ll find yourself rejecting fearful thoughts as quickly as you once accepted them. You will walk in courage and peace in situations that would once have reduced you to a meltdown.

a little girl plays superhero

“We are taking prisoners of every thought, every emotion, and subduing them into obedience to the Anointed One” (2 Cor. 10:5, Voice).

The Breaking of a Food Addict, Part 2

macro man with razor blade on hand cutting cocaine lines readyWhat if a recovering cocaine addict was required to snort just a bit of coke each day while at the same time maintaining control over his compulsions? And what if cocaine were easily accessible, legal, and inexpensive? What if we subjected our recovering addict to commercials about the awesomeness of cocaine every time he turned on his TV? What if there were huge social expectations that demanded he ingest a little cocaine at gatherings with his family and friends? And what if we erected billboards in his town with pictures of people happily snorting lines of cocaine?

This is the battle that a food addict faces every day.

If your first instinct is to tell me I’m being melodramatic or just plain silly, you’ve never been a compulsive eater. This addiction is very private but also very public in that our drug of choice is exalted everywhere we look. And in the meantime, we must depend on the very substance to which we’re addicted in order to live.

Food addicts can’t cold-turkey their addiction. We can’t abstain for more than a few weeks (or 40 days, if our name is Moses) without keeling over and dying. We can’t not go to the grocery store. We all have to prepare food and eat it, and lots of us must cook for other people.

Granted, some food brings health and some brings death (and many processed items don’t deserve to be called “food” at all), but for a food addict in the initial stages of recovery, “food” refers to the whole caboodle.

A person can’t walk away from food the same way he or she can walk away from other substances. Some say that moderation (versus total abstinence) is possible for some former alcoholics, but most experts assert that even one glass of wine on the weekend is out of the question. But food addicts don’t have a choice. It’s moderation or nothing.

Cheese retro poster designOn the other hand, the difference between “typical” drug or alcohol addiction and food compulsion is that food was created for our pleasure, welfare, growth, health, and even healing. The same can’t be said about cocaine. (And though some would say that a bit of wine is good for the belly and the heart, we’d all agree that alcohol is not necessary for daily survival, growth, and health.) The trouble is that commercials and ads rarely expound on the value of pomegranates and lentils. Rarely do we see a billboard with a mouth-watering picture of eggplant.

Therefore, making right choices must be developed and applied every single day by living a consecrated life in regard to food.

But first we have to give up the fight. We can’t just talk about it, read about it, wish we had the courage to do it… We must admit that food is both our god and executioner. We must realize that the only way to beat this thing is to let Jesus beat it for us, to put Him in charge of every piece of food that goes into our mouths. It means becoming comfortable with conversing with God and responding to the nudges of the Holy Spirit. This is a discipline that can be learned and honed. I say “discipline” because—let’s be honest—it’s super easy to disregard that voice just long enough to do what we want to do. It’s easy to say, “I think this or that is okay” when we’re not sure. With an addiction, we must err on the side of restraint. When we’re not sure, we can’t afford to give ourselves a little extra leeway.

The only way to secure victory is to make it a rule of thumb that when you’re not sure about whether God is saying yes or no, the answer is no. That part of you that is addicted is conniving, manipulative, and indulgent, and you can’t give it the benefit of the doubt—ever. It never, ever has your best interests at heart.

One last word: Arriving at the moment of surrender doesn’t mean you’ll never goof again. It doesn’t even mean you won’t stuff half a cheesecake into your mouth at midnight tonight. It simply means throwing in the towel, devoting this area of your life to your Creator, and never having to face an experience with food on your own again.

So You Want to See Fifty Shades . . . But You’re a Christian


It’s finally here: opening weekend for Fifty Shades of Grey, “the hotly anticipated film adaptation of the bestselling book that has become a global phenomenon” (Fandango).

I confess that I didn’t want to write this post, but as opening weekend crept closer and closer, it became more and more obvious that a lot of the folks who will be standing in line to see this film are Christians. And I can’t keep silent about that. Therefore, this post is for believers (and not just women; according to MovieTickets.com, 80 percent of Valentine’s Day tickets are being purchased by couples). If you’re not a Christian, I have no beef with you. In fact, if I weren’t a believer, I’d be in the movie line right next to you if only to find out what all the hullabaloo is about. I’m not baffled by your fascination with this movie. For that matter, I’m not confused by anyone’s interest in it. Sex sells for a reason. What I am confused by is the fact that so many Christians readily pretended that the book didn’t constitute pornography and abandoned their convictions in order to read the series—and now they’re doing the same regarding the movie.

One reader says of the meaning behind the title Fifty Shades of Grey, “It’s a criticism of people who only see the world in black and white. They think everything is black or white, good or bad, socially acceptable or delinquent.” I disagree. Countless issues must be decided on an individual, personal basis. But some are clear-cut. And when the first Fifty Shades book came out and it was obvious that a number of my female Christian friends and acquaintances were reading it, I was stumped as to why pornography was no longer off limits . . . until I realized that, as a society, we’ve decided that Fifty Shades falls outside the parameters of pornography.

The line between porn and not-porn has long been blurry, but since the arrival of Fifty Shades it’s been virtually absent. Why? Because we’ve invented a new genre: “Mommy porn,” a.k.a. “porn that’s far more acceptable to Christian women, especially in the summer when you need a good beach read.” In fact, we’ve so convinced ourselves that this series represents valid literature/cinema that there’s been a lot of uproar over the plot.

Before you accuse me of not caring about topics like domestic violence, let me say that it is a horrific crime, and those who give its victims a voice are heroes. But think about it: we would never argue about the unhealthy relationships and controversial themes represented in your “typical” skin flick because we wouldn’t expect it to be anything but sordid. We’d immediately recognize the silliness of trying to critique such a film. To debate such things in relation to Fifty Shades is to imply that this series has some literary or cinematic merit. And if it merits discussion and debate, then it can’t be mere porn, right?

If we continue to support this new genre with our money, Fifty Shades will be the first in an endless lineup of chocolate-covered smut designed to give Christian women an excuse to indulge in pornography. So here it is: I dare you not to go. I dare you to take a stand, to admit that this film is pornography—nothing more and nothing less—and to stop making excuses and using euphemisms. I dare you to give God jurisdiction regarding what you let into your soul and spirit.

Silhouette illustration of a woman hand grabbing an appleLet’s get honest. If you boycott this movie, your friends might well holler “Prude!” as though you find it all disgusting. There’s a common misconception that believers say no to certain behaviors because they find them unappealing or even revolting. But often, nothing could be further from the truth. Sin is fun. If it weren’t fun, we wouldn’t all struggle with it. If it weren’t intriguing, Adam and Eve wouldn’t have messed things up for the rest of us. Sin was appealing then, and it’s appealing now. We don’t necessarily say no to something because we find it distasteful. We say no because we answer to Someone other than ourselves.

Ephesians 5:12 says, “It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret” (NLT). If we’re instructed to not even chat about these “things,” it surely displeases God when we read 500 pages describing them—or sit in front of a 50-foot screen and watch them played out by real people with real souls.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Fifty Shades won’t be playing everywhere, of course. Malaysia, a predominately Muslim country, has banned the film, while other Muslim countries aren’t likely to play it either.” Are we seriously going to let non-Christian religions outshine the U.S.—a supposedly Christian nation—when it comes to this film? Or will we refuse to line up like cattle on opening night?

It takes guts to say no when the masses say yes. Are you courageous enough to allow the Lord to have the last word?

The Breaking of a Food Addict

Selection Of Doughnuts In A TrayFor me, hitting bottom as a compulsive eater looked like this: I was driving home from work one day with a box of donuts in the passenger seat beside me. That box represented a thousand occurrences of the “buzz” I always felt during the first few minutes of a binge. But it also represented years of obsession, despair, and suffering. Food had me by the throat, and I knew I couldn’t live that way anymore.

We Christians use the phrase “cry out to God” so much that it’s lost its meaning. But believe me when I say I finally cried out to God that day in the car. I wailed and hollered, and it wasn’t pretty. Essentially, my prayer boiled down to a few words: I’d rather be dead than live like this. Help me!

The Lord answered, Here I am. Let’s do this.

I knew what I had to do first. Normally, I’m so against littering that I’ll pick up someone else’s filthy soda can off the beach, but as I continued down the road that day at 60 miles an hour, I glanced in my rearview mirror to make sure no one was behind me and then hurled the box of donuts out the window.

If you don’t hear anything else, hear this: The only reason that moment marked a turning point in my life was that as I consciously unshackled myself from food by tossing that box out the window, I also consciously shacked myself to the Lord regarding food.

As donuts hit the pavement, I relinquished my so-called rights in regard to eating. Essentially I said, “I will never have freedom of choice in this area of my life again.” I knew I could not be trusted when it came to food. So I surrendered that part of my life to Someone who could be trusted.

I’d already surrendered my life in general when I was saved, but now it was time to do the same concerning this aspect of my life. Let me explain: being a believer doesn’t mean saying a word of prayer every time you make a decision. For example, I do pretty well when it comes to money: chances are slim that I’m going to gamble my next paycheck away because I’m a good steward of the money God gives me. Even if I stop by TJ Maxx five minutes after depositing my paycheck, I won’t have to pray my way through the aisles lest I blow $300 on useless stuff. But when it comes to food, I can’t be trusted. I had to abdicate my right to make decisions regarding what I ate. I had to give up control right then, right there, for the rest of my life.

As I mentioned last week, the journey has sometimes been difficult, but I felt a change immediately. I distinctly remember the next morning as I allowed God to guide me through the first meal of the day. What should we have for breakfast, Lord? How about this? No? Okay, how about that? I knew that, as a believer, I had the ability to sense the yes or no of the Holy Spirit, so I literally conversed with Him every time I was in the presence of food. I learned to obey His leading quickly (before I could talk myself out of it). Within days I’d cleared the house of as much sugar as possible and confessed my addiction to someone else in order to bring it into the light.

Chain with heartOn one hand, I was terrified. But on the other hand, I felt great relief. I was no longer responsible for making the often tortuous choice between saying yes or no to something I wanted very much but that I knew would make me feel awful. God was now calling the shots. At first, there were days when I had to take it minute by minute, but eventually it became an hourly effort, and then a daily one.

Next week, we’ll look at a few more aspects of what I now call the Consecrated Way—that is, a lifestyle in which eating is devoted to the Lord. The word “consecrate” means “to make or declare sacred; set apart or dedicate to the service of a deity.” When you consecrate the way you eat, you declare that it’s sacred; you set apart and dedicate that aspect of your life to the service of God. In turn, He accepts your offering and makes it holy—as only He can.

 

The Making of a Food Addict, Part 2

By my mid-twenties, I was living in a 24’ camper with an irresponsible husband as well as my son and two—sometimes three—other adults. For all intents and purposes, we were transient, just one small step from homelessness. Life was out of control. More and more, I sought solace in food.

When you’re spiraling into addiction (food compulsion or otherwise), there comes that moment during a binge when it’s not fun anymore. It no longer tastes/feels good, and you don’t even want it. All sense of enjoyment is gone, and all that’s left is the guilt and self-loathing, but you keep going… The thought process goes something like this: “I’ve already failed, so I might as well fail big.” And if it feels awful, that’s all the better because as far as you’re concerned, that’s what you deserve. Зона ненависти. Дорожный знакCompulsive eating or __________ (fill in the blank) is a type of self-flagellation. It’s a way of giving all the shame, pain, guilt, and sorrow of life somewhere to land. Freedom is possible only when we grasp this truth: the shame, pain, guilt, and sorrow already landed somewhere—on Jesus’ body.

“It was our suffering he carried, our pain and distress, our sick-to-the-soul-ness. … He endured the breaking that made us whole. The injuries he suffered became our healing” (Isa. 53:4–5, Voice).

As the binges became more frequent, I started gaining weight, and I certainly didn’t want to pack on the pounds, so I started purging (which is a polite term for sticking one’s finger down one’s own throat in order to bring the food back up so it doesn’t turn into fat). I have little recollection of the first time; I only remember feeling like I had to rid myself of what I had just put into my body. And of course I remember the shame. This secret cycle of helplessness, self-comfort, and self-loathing continued for a couple of years. I had said the sinner’s prayer at fifteen. But here I was, shackled to my addition. I woke up thinking about food and went to sleep thinking about it. I obsessed about eating, and I obsessed just as neurotically about finding a way to stop.

Man in mask with oxygenI know people who are shocked—even appalled and offended—by the fact that a Christian can be an addict, as though we are somehow immune to the compulsions of the flesh. If only that were true! Brennan Manning once said, “There’s this naïve idea that once I accept Jesus as saving Lord my life is going to be an unbroken, upward spiral toward holiness. … almost like being a patient etherized on the table.”* But that’s not what happens. We don’t shed our bodies; we aren’t immune to temptations, neuroses, dysfunctions, fears, and addictions. I came face to face with this brutal truth as the events of my life roller-coastered and my addiction escalated.

Finally, I hit bottom. That’s where we’ll pick up next time. In the meantime, know this: when God is there to catch you, hitting bottom is good news. For me, it meant waving the white flag and realizing the extent of my helplessness. It meant understanding that, ironically, the only way to freedom was to forfeit my rights and my “freedom of choice” when it came to food and to shackle myself to Jesus instead.

*http://www.georgefox.edu/journalonline/fall06/manning.html

The Making of a Food Addict

I have no idea why one person evolves into a compulsive eater and the next one doesn’t. Yes, food was associated with comfort during my childhood, but isn’t that true for everyone? I was skinny as a kid, and my sister and I grew up back in the day when children still played outside for hours at a time, so I ran off every excess calorie. Even though there were certain dishes I loved (e.g., my grandma’s shrimp dip and lemon meringue pie), I rarely overate.

When I was fourteen, my mother remarried and my safe little life spun out of control. We moved from Chicago to a rinky-dink town in rural Illinois. I was already painfully shy and immature, and the upheaval was excruciating. In the emotional whiplash, I discovered the consolation of food. I got a worker’s permit and an after-school job at Dairy Queen, where we were free to make our own sundaes, so you can imagine what sort of concoctions we kids came up with. After work, when my family had already retired for the night, I’d slip quietly into the apartment and fix a fried egg and bologna sandwich. At some point during my fifteenth year, food got a hook in me.

By the time I was 20, I had a baby and was in a disastrous marriage that would last for more than two decades. We were living in an old, ramshackle house; it was so cold at night that a leftover cup of coffee would freeze on the kitchen table. The house sat on a country road surrounded by cornfields. I was terribly isolated with virtually no friends, no phone, and no transportation. I was forbidden to visit my own family even though they lived just a few miles away. To top it off, I was unknowingly battling the initial stages of thyroid disease.

One day as my son napped in the next room, I sat down with a batch of chocolate chip cookies and I couldn’t stop. Sugar became my drug. The act of eating brought instant relief from the pain and hopelessness.

I began to look forward to these occasional moments alone with food. After the birth of my son, I’d lost every trace of baby weight in 30 days, so I always promised myself I’d have just a few cookies or just one Twinkie. But at some point during each binge—usually by cookie number three or Twinkie number two—the satisfaction would morph into compulsion. That little regulator inside a person that tells them they’ve had enough stopped functioning. I railroaded right over the voice of reason, trying to make the gratification last just one minute longer.

For the next few years, the binges were serious but sporadic. I held my addiction at bay until my mid-twenties . . .

That’s all I can muster for now. Laying my story “out there” is difficult—but worth it if it helps even one person. Understand that if you feel powerless against food, there’s hope. The path to healing is not an easy journey, but there’s hope and there’s freedom. See ya next time.

An Honest Look at Gluttony

The following is a repost of an article in preparation for several weeks of discussion about the topic of food addiction. Stay tuned for more about my journey into and out of food compulsion and about the freedom available to all of us through the One who knows our deepest secrets.

aMost Christians would agree that God has established boundaries for His children in many areas: entertainment, sex, relationships, finances, etc. Yet how many would agree that the same is true regarding food? We American Christians seem to believe that that’s the one area in which He deserves no jurisdiction—that we have free rein to eat what we want, whenever we want, as often as we want it. For anyone to suggest that He has given us guidelines is to suggest that we are “under the law.”

We’ve become so reckless and desensitized that we’ve made a habit of engaging in gluttony together. It’s one thing to recognize a hearty meal with friends as a gift from God, but it’s another to disregard all boundaries and then brag about it: If I eat one more bite you’re gonna have to roll me out of here. Are we those of whom it is written, “Their god is their belly”?

Far be it from me to heap condemnation on anyone. I only tackle this issue because I know that until we take a very honest look at it, we won’t begin to free ourselves from the hold that food has on so many of us. I speak from experience. For years, food was my heroin. I was as helpless against it as a raging alcoholic is against an open bottle of whiskey. I was incapable of drawing my own boundaries regarding food. But then I discovered that God is a personal God, and He’ll draw our boundaries according to what we need.

bWe—that is, the church—would do well to stop ignoring the word “gluttony” and instead face this topic head-on, just as we’re learning to do in regard to other addictions. It’s easy to imagine the harm we would do if we pretended that drug addiction wasn’t really a problem! Let’s stop pretending that a “real” Christian would never rip open a bag of Chips Ahoy and be powerless to stop until every crumb was gone. Jesus has set us free; let’s get truthful so we can help one another out of the pit and into freedom.

“If you hear My voice and abide in My word, you are truly My disciples; you will know the truth, and that truth will give you freedom!” (John 8:31–32, Voice)

A Post-Christmas Confession

I admit: I’m always giddy with relief when Christmas is over.

words-1797603The reason for this is that every year, it becomes more painful and even embarrassing to witness the great, sad irony of Christmas: the effort we put forth trying to convince ourselves and the world that Jesus is the Reason for a season that overflows with greed, gluttony, materialism, and marketing. Our efforts would make far more sense if 1) the Lord had instituted the season in the first place, or 2) the Church refused to bend its knee to the gods of self-indulgence and consumerism and the many practices that fly in the face of all that Jesus exemplified.

I respect those who strive to claim the season for Jesus, yet I feel no urgency to do so personally because those who assert that its roots and traditions are steeped in paganism are, quite frankly, correct. Add to this the increasing demand for bigger and shinier and more expensive gifts; the propaganda of modern-day media and marketing; the stress and irresponsibility of credit card bills; the license to party and drink and eat far more than any other time of the year . . . and the end result is a cauldron of hedonism that the Church drinks from just as eagerly as does the world. The only difference between us and the world is that we simultaneously try to turn the spotlight onto Jesus . . . and then we wonder why the world thinks we’re goofy and why we’re as exhausted, broke, stressed, and overweight as everyone else come January.

Yes, there are things about the Christmas season that I enjoy, like the weekend trip that my husband and I make to Nashville in mid-December every year to do some shopping and carry out our own little traditions. I put up a tiny tree for the sake of the grandkids, and I love the happy chaos of a house full of family. But I am always thankful when the season is over for another year and we can all stop pretending that it’s about Jesus when the Church as a whole actually sold out long ago.

Please hear me: to teach our children about the birth of Christ the King at this time of year is a very good thing, but to teach them the same truths at all times and during all seasons is better. The danger of relegating a certain season (or two, if you count Easter) to the celebration of Jesus is that it’s too easy to excuse ourselves from focusing on what truly matters the rest of the year. The question of where to draw our boundaries as believers when it comes to Christmas is a tricky one with no easy or sweeping answers, but this one thing I know beyond any shadow of a doubt:

Jesus Is the Reason. Period.

Jesus is the reason for life, for existence, 365 days a year. He wants to be the constant object of our affections, the daily motivation behind our behavior, the ultimate purpose behind our career choices, the never-ending desire of our heart, the goal and prize for which we reach every day of our lives. We do not truly live unless we live and breathe and move in Him and for Him. Ultimately, nothing else matters. Perhaps that sounds too radical, but it’s the absolute truth, so I’ll say it again: Nothing else matters. He is the reason for all of it. Let’s keep this in mind as we take down our trees and tinsel, work off those extra five pounds, pay off our debts, and decide what 2015 should look like. As we set goals and enjoy the feeling of a second chance that a new year brings, let us ask the Savior to take His rightful place as King and Lord. Let us echo the song that says,

“Jesus, be the fire in my heart,
Be the wind in these sails,
Be the reason that I live.”

What Are You Waiting For?

What would we do if Jesus walked into our living rooms tonight and said, “I’ll make you a deal: detach yourself from all of this. Stop chasing the American dream and instead live on minimum resources, and I promise you’ll never regret it. Stop believing the lie that a responsible Christian must have a 401(k), three walk-in closets, and a college fund for each kid. Instead, dare to shave your budget and your schedule to a minimum and spend the surplus money, time, and energy on the poor, and I’ll give you in return the things you can’t buy: peace in your soul, more of My presence, unshakable joy, and a life that matters.” What would we do if He offered us that promise? Would we believe Him? Would we trade the American dream for treasures in heaven?

If our answer is yes, then we must ask ourselves what we’re waiting for. He’s already given us the promise:: “Then Jesus . . . said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me’” (Mark 10:21).

As someone who has taken several leaps of faith (e.g. leaving a secure job, a decent income with benefits, and a town I loved), I know what it feels like when God challenges you to take His word literally and do something that looks reckless or irresponsible to everyone around you. I also know what it’s like to be scared to death to jump into the wild unknown. I you’re resisting the call of God to take a leap of faith, ask yourself: What perfect condition am I waiting for? In what ways must all the stars be aligned before I obey? Am I waiting until I’m fearless? Until everyone agrees with my dream?

The only thing you must wait for is Jesus’ call—“Come, take up the cross, and follow Me”—and that call has already come.

 

The Trouble with Self-Condemnation

When’s the last time your beat yourself up? Last week when you lost your temper at work? Yesterday when your teenager acted out and you felt like a rotten parent? This morning when you stepped on the scale?

Self-absorption entails far more than typical pride—it means anything that shifts your awareness away from Jesus (or the service of others) and onto yourself. Egocentricity has many “faces”—including the typical ones, such as putting your own needs above those of others or steering conversations so that they revolve around you and your accomplishments.

But here’s the clincher: self-absorption also includes indulging in self-condemnation. That’s right: self-condemnation is not a sign of humility; in fact, there’s nothing Christlike about it. I can’t beat myself up unless I’m obsessing about my own behavior rather than looking to Jesus. When I have eyes only for Him, I’m quick to extend grace and compassion to those He loves—including myself.

Some of us are willing to offer grace and forgiveness to everyone but ourselves. We’d never dream of attacking someone else the way you do ourselves: “Nothing you do is good enough; you are so stupid—what’s wrong with you? You’ll never measure up!”

It’s time to realize that brutalizing yourself is not any less sinful than brutalizing any other child of God.

The only way to steer clear of self-absorption is to stay tuned to Jesus’ presence and inclination at all times. Lord, help us to keep our eyes on You—and off ourselves.

 

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