May my exploration of faith be a blessing to others.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Time to Stop Worshiping My "god"

It's Ash Wednesday. Lent is here! I woke up excited but unfocused. For days, I've been thinking about what my Lenten observation should be. What should I "give up" in order to show my penitence and love for God? I heard others talking about chocolate or sugar or sodas, etc., etc. Nothing sounded right.

Finally, it struck me: I would "take on" something instead. I would get back on my stationary bike after having suffered an injury to my left hip and a different injury to my right knee. Bilateral pain would not stop me from getting back on the bike. Congratulations on your penance, I told myself. So, this morning, I got back on the bike and my knee immediately started screaming, "Just what do you think you are doing!?!" So, I slowed down. Way down. I didn't know the machine could move that slowly. Then, as I usually do while pedaling, I started my morning meditation. I did my usual reading from The Catholic Company's daily email and did my usual morning prayers. But, as part of my Lenten bike riding, I had promised more time. I had to find another meditation...

The irony of my pre-Lenten search for the right observance is that I never asked God about it. I thought about what I should I do. I talked to others about it. I read about it. I never once prayed about it. After all, praying isn't just about asking, it's also about listening, and listening is something I am really an expert of not doing. In fact, God had been talking to me all along. Then, last night while standing in line at our parish's annual Mardi Gras pancake supper, an old damaged nerve starting shooting fire up and down my left leg. Listen, God said, you know the right thing to do.

But, I'm used to ignoring that nerve pain just like I'm used to ignoring God. Like I said, I'm an expert.

As I sat there on that bike, very slowly pushing one pedal then the other with no more prayers left on my Prayer List app, I finally listened: you know what you have to do. I clicked on Google and typed "Catholic diet plan." You see, I have struggled with eating disorders for more than 30 years. I've joined groups, followed diets, sought counseling. I've actually even prayed about it for short moments in time. Every day, all day, I am reminded of it. And the consequences of it are reflected in the state of my body. That knee and that hip would likely have healed by now if they weren't constantly bearing the weight of two grown people. That nerve damage was likely caused by pressure that the weight placed on that nerve. Every problem I have is exacerbated by my "unhealthy relationship" with food. More often than not, food is the remedy I apply to my problems, my stresses, my joys. Food has been my answer more often than God. Food has been my false god and it has failed me every single time.

This morning's Google search led me to an interview in America Magazine with Dr. Jennifer Nolan. Having struggled with weight loss herself, she developed a Bible-inspired diet that worked for her and wrote a book about it. While I don't think her diet plan is the true answer to my search, her words will help to guide me on my way. As a professional counselor to people with addictions, she framed the eating issue this way, "As a formerly overweight person, I know firsthand that obesity is a poverty of spirit. Mother Teresa said that the greatest poverty is to feel unwanted, and obesity can certainly give a person that feeling. I know--I felt it many times. To me, food was all about consolation, reward and celebration. When food is the center of your life, it is a meager substitute for God."

At last, I heard the message I had read days and days ago: for Lent, you should surrender whatever it is that is getting in the way of your relationship with God. I had known for years that I was abusing food. I even knew that it was spiritually wrong, but I had refused to acknowledge it as sin. In that moment this morning, I finally realized that I was breaking the Commandment to have no other gods. I have always failed to conquer my eating disorders and failed to lose weight because I was depending on a false god: food.

I don't know what it means yet to surrender my eating disorders for Lent (and beyond) but I know how to find the answer. This time, I'm going to pray. And, this time, I'm actually going to listen.

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