A Spiritual Discipline for Physical Health

So, this isn’t something I thought I would be writing. But here I am. What started as a spiritual discipline has led to a major change in my habits and awareness. Which is how it is supposed to be, right?

So here is my story. When I was younger, I had great metabolism. In my thirties, this has changed. With that was a change in my weight. At first, I just shrugged it off and called it “pastor weight” and wanted to pretend that it wasn’t a big deal. Then it started to become more noticeable. Every part of me had put on some weight. I could feel it everywhere. I don’t know that there wasn’t a part of my life that wasn’t impacted. And I kept trying to tell myself that it was normal. I was no longer overweight. I was obese. Then something changed. And it wasn’t a true weight loss decision. Not at first.

What happened was Lent. I had been thinking about what I could give up for Lent. One year I had given up soda, and that lasted all of Lent. Then I slowly let it creep back in. This year I decided I would try to do a limited fast. I didn’t do a complete fast because I knew that I would never have the energy to chase two toddlers if I did. So, I came up with a plan to eat the same small breakfast and the same small lunch every day. I left dinner free so that I could still have dinner with family. I left one free day, Saturday, so that when people might come to visit I wasn’t worrying about explaining it over lunch. I eliminated snacking and sodas entirely from my diet. That was not easy. But I was treating this as a spiritual discipline.

That is what made this possible for me. I’m a creature of habit, as my wife will tell you as she rolls her eyes and sighs. She has every right to do so. You should go tell her how brave and strong she is for putting up with me. As a creature of habit, my snacks were a habit. If I had ice-cream, I got out one of my mugs and put ice-cream in it. I didn’t worry about bowls for snacks, I would just eat from a bag or box. If I did get a bowl, it was an oversized cereal bowl with Tony the Tiger on it. Gr-r-reat! Not great, actually. But once this became a spiritual discipline, my thinking changed.

As spiritual disciplines go, fasting is not one I hear about from people that often. I will sometimes hear from other clergy, but there is rarely a comment about fasting from the congregation. Many people I know think of fasting as all or nothing. I know that there are people who can do a complete fast, and kudos to them. I am not one of them. As reasoned above, I would not be able to keep up with my kids. But fasting is more than just not eating and drinking. Fasting can be abstaining or limiting anything. Now, it should be meaningful, and it should foster a closer relationship with God. Fasting that doesn’t improve your spiritual life isn’t going to be a fruitful spiritual discipline. I chose food because it made me aware of those who went without. I chose to pray instead of snack. I feasted on the Word when I wanted to feast on Cheez-its. It worked. I felt more spiritually aware. An added side effect was that I started to lose weight. And it was noticeable. It made me aware of something. I had not been taking care of the body that God gave me. I’d been a poor steward of it, really.

As Lent is a time of transformation and reflection, I reflected on what I should do with this newfound spiritual and physical revelation, and how I could continue my transformation. I decided that the best move was to start tracking my calories. I chose calorie counting because the biggest thing that had changed in my diet was limiting my portions. So, I started using an app on my phone to input what I ate. I decided on a weight goal, and it would tell me how many calories I had for each meal. Then I put in my food. Thing is, I would not have reached that point if I hadn’t started this entire journey out with my spiritual health in mind.

I wanted to wait until I knew that I was able to manage calorie counting and didn’t just put my weight back on before writing this. I do not intend for this to be bragging, but I’m giving a testimony to what God has done. I’ve lost over 20 pounds since Christmas. This is no small feat. It has been difficult. I’ve still got a way to go before I reach my goals. But I know that with God’s help, all things are possible. So, I continue in this spiritual journey to physical health. I strongly encourage you to take a look at your physical and spiritual health and consider fasting.

Now, I need to make a few final points. I strongly suggest you talk to your doctor before any long-term diet changes. Know that it can be difficult. Not everyone loses weight the same. It can be easy to get discouraged if you have a bad day or a bad week. Know that the scale may not change as fast as you’d like it to.

I did not cover the many ways we can fast for a better life. I am focusing on food because a very large percentage of Americans are overweight. According to the CDC, 70% of adults are overweight or obese. I am currently part of that 70%. But I find hope, because I found the hope of Easter giving me a new hope for healthy living. If you would like to know more, feel free to contact me. I am happy to help. Christ has given me yet another hope that I would like to share. Thank you for reading, and please feel free to share this.

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