“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)
The picture above is of my beloved Great Pyrenees, Duke, and a litter of foster puppies who raided his personal food bowl one afternoon. Duke, as you can see, was patient despite their poor judgment. Weighing just eight ounces shy of 150 pounds, Duke is immensely strong. The Pyrenees breed was created to protect flocks by being strong enough to kill any predator, even a bear. The massive chest, the powerful jaws, the legs as thick as bricks all point to an alpha male that can take down any opponent. Which is why I love watching Duke with those little puppies. Those fluffballs regard Duke as a living playground. They climb and claw and bite. Duke lets them disturb his naps, steal from his food bowl, and run away with his toys. I’ve seen them nibble on his nose and his ears, and Duke will only sigh and occasionally groan at their misdeeds.
Their foolish youthful indiscretions should put their lives in great danger. After all, Duke was bred for massive strength. Yet it is precisely Duke’s strength that keeps the puppies safe. His massive power gives the puppies a lot of leeway in their behavior. His strength gives them freedom. He is so big, and so strong, that he is not threatened when they growl or jump or bite. They can hurt him, but they can’t wound him. He is patient with them, because he’s not just powerful; he’s kind.
Yet when I sit down to pray to my heavenly Father, as I contemplate His massive power, sometimes I get nervous. My chest feels tight. My jaw muscles tense, I shift my weight in my chair. My body tenses as if to run; how can an all-powerful God be completely good? How can I trust so much power? Isn’t power similar to anger?
No. It’s not. If we’ve seen too many Hollywood movies, or if we grew up in a dysfunctional home, we may have forgotten that power and anger are worlds apart. God is powerful, but He is good. He is kind. That’s hard for me to grasp, and I’m thankful that every prayer is a baby-step to understanding God’s big, beautiful heart of love. Each prayer is a little invitation to see great power demonstrated through love. Mighty strength displayed in kindness.
Scripture tells us that this is how He wants to answer our every prayer. Psalm 119 is one of many passages that tells us God answers our prayers according to His loving kindness. Let me say that again: He will answer you with love plus kindness. Whatever you pray for today, His answer will be love. Plus kindness. If you eat past 5, if you spend past your budget, if you’ve betrayed a friend or you’re struggling with shame and regrets, His answer to you is love. Plus kindness.
Sometimes when I pray, I like to write my prayers down as if I am writing a letter to a friend. I may describe a situation or problem then ask on paper, “What is the most loving thing that could happen here? What would be the kindest thing?” When I am confronted with an action I must take, I ask, “What would love do? How would kindness act?”
I pray for everything and about everything. I have only begun to understand and believe that Love and Kindness are always the answer. Every problem and every failure needs both, and God knows we are weak. He knows we often use poor judgment, and that what we desperately need is what He has already promised. He is ready and willing to love us, exactly as and where we are. His enormous power and strength are demonstrated in His love and kindness toward our weakness. We are free to approach Him with confidence, and even boldness, because He delights in revealing how His love and kindness can transform our worst moments into His greatest miracles.
What About You?
When you pray, what do you expect? Do you fear punishment or expect love? What does your expectation tell you about your beliefs?
Think of your greatest problem or battle today. What is the most loving thing you could do? What would a great kindness be?
Can obedience be a form of kindness to yourself? When you submit to God’s ways, do you experience a freedom and joy that seem closely related to kindness and love?
The ancient mariners used the stars as their guides. Alone on the dark sea, a bright star or blazing constellation told the sailors which way to steer. True North was never hard to find. And if they made a wrong turn, they knew it immediately based on the position of the stars and the boat.
In ThinWithin, however, we often feel as if we’re steering without starlight. Let me explain.
Since my days as a child, I learned how to make choices according to right and wrong. There was moral certainty. There were immediate consequences. If my mother told me not to put my hand on the hot stove, I knew what was expected of me. And if I disobeyed, I immediately felt the pain of my bad choice. I knew my mother was right because I felt pain when I disobeyed. If she told me not to steal a toy from my brother, and I did, I got immediate consequences. So choosing right or wrong was all about avoiding unpleasant consequences.
Now that I am trying to live within 0-5 eating guidelines, however, there is no immediate, obvious consequence for disobedience. If I eat past my Spirit-led boundaries, nothing seems to happen. I don’t feel pain. No one sends me to my room. Likewise, if I skip eating when I am at a 0, nothing seems to happen, either. There are no immediate, obvious, painful consequences.
However, a much more powerful force is already at work, unseen.
In Thin Within, we are learning to be led by the Spirit. We are learning to listen for God’s still, small voice. We aren’t making choices based on consequences….we’re making choices based on listening. And that can be so powerful, because in our adult lives, there are precious few choices that are clearly right or wrong. There is so much uncertainty and opportunity. We make daily, important choices about love, life, career, children…most of which cannot be neatly categorized as right or wrong. Many of our choices don’t even seem to have immediate consequences. But we need to listen if we are to live our best lives, because choices have a cumulative effect.
That is the second, sneaky principle at work….our choices are cumulative. One binge might not change our lives, but a week, a month, a year of binges? They have the power to destroy so much that we hold dear. One slip past 5 might not matter, but a habit of disobedience can steal much more than our peace. (and our God-given weight!)
That’s why I am willing to wrestle with my self-will on a daily basis. I may not feel pain if I eat outside of my boundaries; but I can’t make choices based on pain and consequences. I want to make choices based on what I hear: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). I want to listen for the Lord, because He has such stormy waters to lead me through. He has places of beauty and rest ahead, too, and if I make my decisions based on what I feel, instead of what I hear, I might miss them.
And I don’t want to miss the best that God has for me. I don’t want you to miss the best God has for you, either!
What About You?
Are you tempted to “cheat” if you don’t sense any consequences ?
Do you feel pain of any kind if you disobey? Is it easy to ignore, or not?
If you train yourself to make decisions by listening to God’s leading, how would this impact your entire life?
I replaced the light bulbs in my bathroom this week. Two bulbs over my mirror had burned out long ago, and because of their height above the mirror, I postponed the replacement for months.
And then my husband informed me that a repairman was coming to replace our water heater. He would need access to our master bath to check his work. I immediately went to work cleaning up the bath, including replacing the lights with new, extra bright bulbs. When I hit the light switch, I saw my face in a new light, literally.
You know, the right light can change everything. It can change our priorities and choices. It can change our perceptions and immediate plans.
Let’s just say my tweezers saw some heavy action that afternoon.
This has been very similar to my experience with the boundary of 0-5 eating. It has been a bright light in my life, and what it is revealing has surprised me. Perhaps I am not who I thought I was.
Because weight loss wasn’t a major concern for me, I thought the 0-5 boundaries were a wonderful tool. Notice I said, “tool,” and not “boundary.” You use a tool when you need it. Tools are morally and spiritually neutral. They’re useful and wonderful but only occasionally necessary.
A boundary is a commitment that reflects a moral or spiritual truth. Boundaries also hint at which identity I have embraced, and what I have given authority in my life. To recognize 0-5 eating as a boundary moves its priority up in my life because it reflects what I believe to be true. 0-5 eating is not an occasional tool anymore; it’s part of my daily walk with God.
That means that my commitment to this boundary is a lifelong commitment. With diets, there is a goal and an end date. “I’m only going to lose a few pounds,” I might have said long ago. “Then this diet will be done.”
When we choose to recognize 0-5 eating as a God-honoring boundary, we’re committing for life. Weight loss is not the goal; submission is.
As I make daily eating choices based on the truth that God is my ultimate authority, I find His light growing stronger and brighter. I have found, much to my surprise, that not everything is really what I once thought. When faced with conflict in the past, I fought for what I wanted, and what I thought was right. Today, however, I recognize that submission to God’s leading is the quickest route to inner peace, and inner peace is more valuable to me than winning a fight. I can trust God to work things out in His own time, and my “assistance” is often not required.
Choosing 0-5 eating as a boundary has changed a lot of things for me and I have begun to realize I am capable of big changes. I can do new things, and in new ways. Submission and obedience are tough but tender teachers. I have found a peace I didn’t know was available. I’ve learned that my real strength comes from surrender. And that God can surprise us all at any moment in our journey, leading us somewhere bright and new.
What About You?
Do you think of 0-5 eating as a tool, or a boundary? Do you think there is a difference for you?
When you consider the words “surrender” and “submission,” what is your first reaction? Is it pleasant or negative?
If you lost all the weight today that you wanted to lose, would you still continue with the 0-5 eating guidelines? Why or why not?
“Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”
The month of December is packed with crammed schedules, stretched budgets, and the ever present assortment of sweets, alcohol, and all-night shopping. Whatever your particular temptation, it will be waiting for you in abundance. When we add in the visits from family and far away relatives, there is a potent brew of stress swirling around us. We can be so easily distracted by it all, and miss the good gifts God wants to give us this year.
If you tend to get a little (or a lot!) stressed out by Christmas, you’re not alone. Christmas is an emotionally-charged holiday. A Consumer Reports survey found that 90% have at least one thing we dread about the holidays. Dread is a strong word; it implies a gnawing fear about something we have no control over. Let me share my top three things I am tempted to dread, and then I’ll share my secret for stressing less.
1. Body: At Christmas, I often visit with relatives whom I haven’t seen all year. Many times, other women will want to talk about weight and diets. Sometimes, other women might even comment on my weight. Even if they are complimenting me on “winning” the war with the scale, I am immediately tempted into pride or fear or even resentment. Any discussion of weight or diets is like sticking a finger into old emotional wounds. No matter what is being said, it can stir unpleasant feelings.
2. Money: Obsession tends to shift around in my life, looking for a home. If I stop obsessing about weight and food, I can easily start obsessing about money. And during the holiday season, the extra spending makes me feel uncomfortable. I am often tempted to blow my budget, just like it was a diet. “Oh, well,” I might think. “I’m spending so much on everyone else, I might as well blow the whole budget.”
3. Expectations: I want my house to be decorated and clean. I want everyone to be happy and the kids to get along. I want to feel the magic of Christmas in my heart from the moment I wake up until I collapse from exhaustion at night. The problem is, I don’t have a set designer, a food stylist, or even a maid. I do, however, have PMS and occasional insomnia. I just can’t ever seem to meet my own expectations. And neither can Christmas. Sometimes I secretly wonder what is wrong with me…
It would seem that Christmas could give me, and all of us, plenty of reasons to overeat! Christmas can be emotionally-charged because there are so many opportunities to be aware of the aching hole in our hearts. And when we try to fill the hole, we often fill it with the wrong things. Spiritual bondage is defined as filling the hole in our hearts with things that only make the hole bigger.
So how can we navigate the season with joy? How do we fill our hearts with what they need? For me, the secret is thinking small. The bigger my fears, the larger my problems seem, the smaller my focus must become. In particular, I am focusing on 0-5 eating, and here’s why:
Living within the boundary of 0-5 eating seems to pay extra dividends during the holiday season. With all the triggers and temptations around me, staying within safe boundaries eases all my stress. The comfort of this one godly boundary soothes my nerves. It’s like my heavenly Father draping His strong arm around my shoulders.
0-5 eating pays dividends all year long, of course. But during Christmas, 0-5 eating keeps me focused on Jesus. As I focus on following His lead in this one area, all the other distractions and dreads seem to fade into background noise. Christmas, with all its necessary preparations, becomes a quieter, sweeter experience. What comes to me as a test of faith (giving up that extra piece of fudge!) becomes the key to release from all my other my burdens.
How about you?
What is it about the Christmas season that seems daunting to you today? Have you ever noticed that keeping one godly boundary, even imperfectly, seems to make the whole day more peaceful? How could the godly boundary of 0-5 eating bring you comfort and peace this Christmas season?
G. Ann Arias