Monday, February 27, 2017

God's Gift of the Scale

I had just gotten to the gym locker room when I realized I hadn't weighed myself in a while. The last time I weighed myself, I was at 165, which is around the top end of how much I want to weigh. I had been tracking calories somewhat faithfully, though I knew I had thrown in a couple (ok... maybe more than a couple) of cheat days. But overall, I felt like I was eating at least somewhat healthy, I was exercising, and my fitbit kept telling me I was under my calorie goal nearly every day.

So, consider my shock when, only four weeks after weighing 165, I tipped the scales at 171. How in the world did I gain six pounds in only a month?

What came next was an uncovering of different fears and anxieties.

“What will people think of me if I keep gaining weight?”

“What if I end up back to when I weighed over 200 lbs?”

“Am I not changing at all in my struggle with gluttony? Is God even working in my heart? Am I even a Christian?”

“Am I going to have a heart attack and die?”

I wish I could say I was joking about these fears and anxieties. I wish I could say that I logically pulled out scripture and knocked each one of these down with the timeless truths of God's Word. But that's not true. Instead I went inward, and tip-toed the line of self-loathing and despair.

What was interesting, however, was when I shared this struggle with a few people, the response was corrective.

“Zack, you're not fat, you don't need to worry.”

I appreciate the sentiment. However, they missed the point of why I was struggling with my weight. They missed the fears and anxieties. I think, honestly, we miss the greater beauty of God's use of the scale, at least in my life.

The scale has served often like the dashboard lights of a car.  It tells you if something might be wrong. However, it doesn't tell you what is actually wrong.  A check engine light could mean a whole host of problems. But to determine the problem, you need to go to an actual mechanic.

The scale can indicate a number of things. But it can't tell you what's wrong, and in fact, it can't even tell you if something is right! But if you look deep enough, it helps you perform a heart diagnostic. And if you're like me, and your emotions come easy to the surface, the scale can help identify different fears and struggles that reside in the deep recesses of our hearts.

One weight measurement, and I can identify a few things as I thought through all of the emotions.

1. I have been running to food a bit more as I've been sad, and I need to continue to remember Christ in the midst of sadness.

2. I need to repent of my worry over my life, and trust that God, in His infinite wisdom, will do me good all the days of my life, and the lives of my wife and children.

3. It reminds me that my identity is not in the number on the scale, nor the image I see in the mirror. I am made in the image of God, and I was made a son of God through the blood of Jesus. Because of this, I am of infinite value to Christ, regardless of my weight and body image.

4. I can rejoice that God has made a tool that can help me manage my health, as well as one that helps expose my fears

5. There is grace for today, so today, I can examine how I can honor God with my body in how I eat and exercise.

Maybe you're like me, and you are easily consumed by a number. Maybe that number rattles in your head all the time, and you believe it defines you.

It doesn't. Especially, not if you were bought by the precious blood of Christ. So, instead of fearing the number on the scale, praise God for a tool that helps us manage our health, expose our fears and anxieties, and may we cling to Christ as we understand more about what we fear.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Return of an Old Friend

Author's Note: I wrote this back at the end of August.  My hope is that, if anyone out there is wrestling with depression, PTSD, anxiety, or anything like that, that this would be an encouragement to your soul.  This is my fairly raw processing, so while I firmly believe that the Gospel is our greatest hope against depression, I am not endorsing that solely belief will make the feelings go away, only that they ground our hope in a firm foundation. 

There are so many lies I've believed in my lifetime.  You see all those shows where something catastrophic happens, they rebuild, transform whatever was wrong, and then they are all smiles at the end.  They ride off into the sunset, happily ever after.  That's what I thought would happen for us.  We moved back in nearly 2 weeks ago.  I felt I hand handled this whole thing rather well, the fire that is.  I was sad, sure, but I had faith in Christ.  I had hope.  I was secure.

Now?  I've never been more terrified in my life.

I have my office in my bedroom now.  As I work in it, the scene flashes before me frequently; running into the same room to grab what I could before the fire potentially claimed everything.  The same bedroom that now taunts me with the reminder that I was foolish with my life that day, and could have cost my wife her husband and my children their father.

When I turn on the panini maker, or the oven, or even the keurig for coffee, I wonder if it's going to be okay.  One sizzle, one crackle of oil, or the sound of burning liquid ignites my senses.  "Am I going to do it again?"

I thought campus would be an escape.  What a mistake.  Every person asks, "how was your summer?"  My answer?  About as good as it can be for a guy who lit their kitchen on fire.  No one really knows how to respond to that one.  I know they try.  I really want to be gracious.  Jesus has grace for me.

At the same time, I want to scream.  I want to cry.  I want to punch through a wall, anger running through my veins.  And then the apathy, lack of emotion paralyzing me to the point that every detail feels like a 100 lb weight that I've been asked to move from one end of town to the next.  This all seems new, yet vaguely familiar.

Oh... I remember you.  I remember you, Old Friend.

I remember the first time I met you.  I didn't want to believe you were there, but you were.  I was fundraising full-time, trying to finish so I could get on campus and provide for my soon-to-be wife.  For a season, it felt like I would never get there.  I turned to familiar vices, food being the predominant one, leading to weight gain that only left me with more apathy.  I thought I was just being sinful and foolish.  While both of those were true, I didn't realize you were there with me.

I met you again a couple years later.  I was a punk.  Young in ministry, seeking to prove to everyone I could hack it.  God was gracious to remind me that those efforts were fruitless.  Nothing I did worked.  I didn't want to do anything, didn't want to fail, didn't want anyone to think I was a nobody.  You walked alongside me, trying to scream out to me, to point me to my need.  As I reached out to Jesus, slowly but surely you let go, like a mother who was training her child to slowly gain independence.  I thought the pain you brought was far, far away.

But you came and went.  Moments in time that reminded me that I was in need of Christ.  It was as if you were dropping by for a short visit.  I wish your visit were brief now.

It's the busiest season of our ministry.  We have to get our home ready.  There are tons of decisions to make.  Conflicts to resolve.  And you came in unannounced, like you always do.

Sometimes, Depression, you feel like a horrible friend.  Why would you come now?  Why not in the middle of the summer, when I had time to feel like I can't move?  Why now, when I need to be at my best, when I need to be rested, not sitting in a hospital bed wondering if I'm having a heart attack?  Why now, when I'm supposed to be the example of holiness and Godliness to my students, my family, my church?  And how long will you stay?  I'm begging you to leave.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why have you allowed this awful friend to stay by my side?  Why won't you take this thorn in the flesh!  Why won't you stop my tears from flowing so freely!?  Please, Lord, I'm begging for relief!  Don't you realize that this friend is hurting me?!  Don't you realize what he's doing?

I can't feel safe in my own home, I can't feel safe in crowds, is there anywhere that I can feel safe!?

"My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling." (Psalm 46:1-3)

Maybe not.  But I can rest securely in the arms of Jesus, holding me as everything falls apart around me, and even within me.  If there's anything that I can know about this old friend, it's that he drives me to cling to the one who can carry me through the storm, as painful as it may be.

You drive me to my knees, and you force me to rely on Jesus better than any other.  You force me to keep moving even against my lack of will, and, even more so, you force me to lie down and rest, that I might reflect on the glorious truth that there is nothing about me that God would have chosen, yet did so anyway.  He loves me, and I know because He proved it with His dying breath on the cross.

"Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior."  
-- Hillsong United "Oceans"