Self-Inflicted Hardships

So after I wrote Wednesday’s post about taking a break from media and entertainment, it suddenly occurred to me that I’m embarking on my third fast in four months – electricity, healthcare appointments, and now media.

At first I wondered what was wrong with me – why do I constantly feel the need to give stuff up??

But then I realized that each of these experiences has been amazing, and I feel as if I’ve been learning a lot through them.

And suddenly, a conversation from this last weekend came back to me…

A friend of mine at camp was talking about life on full-time staff at camp, and she was asking me questions about our five years out there – she was curious about what kinds of things we did to grow together as a team, and how we made sure to be continually seeking Jesus, and growing closer to Him as a group.

As I thought about it, I could clearly see how it was always the hardest times out there which had caused us to grow the most – to pray the most fervently, to depend on each other, and share life in the deeper ways.

hard times

When I shared this with her, she was a bit disappointed, because she said everything was going so well! How would they grow together if nothing was hard, or going wrong?!

But then I realized that December was a month of huge growth and development for me personally, and it was optional. I voluntarily put myself through that challenge. I did it because I felt it was what God was calling me to do, but it was still a choice I made.

I came to the conclusion that deep growth is usually the result of difficulties that cause us to depend completely on God, but those difficulties can be self-inflicted!

Like going on a missions trip. People usually seem to come back completely on fire for God when they’ve been on a missions trip. They were challenged and stretched, and saw God work in ways they had never seen before. Their joy and excitement is usually quite contagious.

Nobody forced them to go on that missions trip – they did it voluntarily, but it brought about huge growth.

So here’s the thing: My life has been fairly awesome for the last few years. After a stretch of numerous health problems, multiple miscarriages, years of infertility, and a few other difficulties that we’ve had to weather, I feel as though I’m now in a season of blessing. It would be very easy to start coasting, becoming complacent, without some crisis to jerk me awake to the reality of how much I still need Jesus, on a very daily basis.

But my new theory is that even when the storms of life have calmed down for a bit, Jesus can still lead us into challenging situations just because they’re good for us. He shakes things up to keep us from falling asleep. He continually calls us to go deeper, further in.

I want to choose growth, when the opportunity presents itself!

Want to share about a time when you voluntarily put yourself through a tough time and experienced great growth?

Food For Thought – Part Two

As promised, Reason Number Two for fasting: wanting the Holy Spirit to control my body, not my stomach.

Until we actually give food up, we have absolutely no idea how much it controls us. That is what I’ve been learning the last four years.

Four years ago, some health problems I’d been having for 12 years were finally diagnosed, and I was told that I needed to give up dairy, gluten, and sugar.

Dairy was no problem, but gluten and sugar? Oh, my word. For the first two weeks, I thought I would go completely crazy. I would lie awake in bed at night, wanting bread or sugar. Or both. It was awful. I couldn’t think about anything else, all day long. I actually cried about it.

But I also prayed about it. It really bothered me that my will and self-control was so weak. It was food, for crying out loud. Could I not give it up? Every time I wanted sweets, I was reminded again and again that self-control is a Fruit of the Spirit, and I obviously needed more of it in my life.

I’ve read that it takes two months of never eating sugar for the cravings to go away completely. Cheat even a little bit, and you’re back at square one.

But the really amazing part is that they actually DO go away completely. The girl who used to inhale Fudgee-O’s and chocolate ice cream does not crave sugar anymore – ever! There are moments when delicious desserts are passed around at the lodge here at camp, and I feel a slight longing sometimes, but it goes away immediately, and I don’t find it hard to turn that stuff down anymore.

Now, I have a lot more motivation than the average person – I know that all sorts of heartburn, stomachaches, and discomfort await me if I ever cheat. But I’ve learned a few things:

  • I am stronger than I think I am (in the Holy Spirit, because of self-control being a Fruit of the Spirit)
  • It is MUCH easier for me to never cheat than to just cheat a little bit here and there. Example: A few years ago, I was doing some Christmas baking, and baked a large cookie sheet of squares. I was cutting the edges off, and decided to pop a piece in my mouth. And then I decided to do that again. And again. And suddenly I looked down at my pan, and realized that I had eaten all the edges around the entire pan. I can’t do just a little bit. It’s all or nothing.
  • The moment of temptation lasts for as long as the item is in reach. I did not keep baked sweets in our house for a long time. Now it doesn’t bother me.
  • It gets easier with time.
  • When your husband also stops eating sugar (and loses 10 pounds, just like that!), it makes it even easier!
  • My body started craving other things. Now, a bowl of fruit is a treat for me. Fresh berries are all the dessert I need.

It is not easy. But it is definitely possible.

And it’s not “just food”. To me, it had to become spiritual. I had to go to God with my physical needs, I had to admit that food was controlling my body in ways that it should not be allowed to do.

While I was eating whatever I felt like, I would crave things all the time, and thought it was normal. Now I don’t really crave things at all, and it is an incredibly wonderful, freeing feeling. I enjoy eating entirely different things than before, and I love it. If I were miraculously healed, and were able to eat absolutely anything I wanted to, I wouldn’t go back. I would never have believed that was possible, but that’s how different my body feels now.

But I do have to clarify that I struggle with self-control in other areas, if not sugar. Corn chips get me every time, and then there are all the non-food things, like gossip, critical comments, etc. I’m kinda hoping that self-control “flows” into other areas with time….

So, maybe I don’t know a ton about fasting, as in “going without any food for an extended period of time”, but I do know about giving up some kinds of food. I’ve also tried fasting from other things, like the internet, reading fiction, anything that has gotten out of balance, and started to control too much of my life.

Ben got me to read about fasting in one of his textbooks, and I came across the following quote:

Fasting is an opportunity to lay down an appetite – an appetite for food, for media, for shopping. This act of self-denial may not seem huge – it’s just a meal or a trip to the mall – but it brings us face to face with the hunger at the core of our being….Through self-denial we begin to recognize that controls us. Our small denials of the self show us how little taste we actually have for sacrifice or time with God. (“Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us”, by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun)

So those are my thoughts. You can gladly leave your thoughts in the comment section! I’m curious how other people feel about fasting.

Bonus Tidbit: If you want extra reading about what sugar is actually doing to your body, check out this article. Interesting, disturbing reading!

Food For Thought

Today we’re going to talk about food.  And maybe about giving food up, self-control, and fasting.

I’ve been struggling with writing about this topic, because there are just some things that are socially unacceptable to talk about – how people spend their money, how they are choosing to parent their children, and their eating habits. If you want to make someone’s defenses go up super fast, one of those topics should work out very nicely for you.

So, why would I choose to talk about food, fasting, and eating habits, when it’s a topic that can make people feel uncomfortable??

  1. Fasting is a spiritual discipline.
  2. I’ve spent the last four years of my life seriously overhauling my eating habits, so I tend to think about it a lot.
  3. I’m going to share personal experiences, which no one can argue with, because it’s my experience. I know nothing about your experience. I would never ask, because I usually try to stay within the bounds of what is socially acceptable…(Although I might need to check with Ben to see if he agrees with that statement. Maybe sometimes I don’t try very hard…)

What does God have to do with food? Well, fasting was pretty popular in the Bible, and I believe that it’s something that we should still be doing today.

However, I’m not the best person to write about that, because I’ve fasted only a handful of times in my life.

I have excellent excuses. My doctor has told me that I need to eat every two or three hours because my blood sugar does wonky things if I don’t. Since I have started doing this, I have felt a dramatic improvement in my life over what I felt like before.

Fasting does not go together very well with wonky blood sugar.

Being a mom of young, active children does not go together very well with fasting with wonky blood sugar.

So, I’m working on this one. I’m thinking a mini retreat in the fall would be wonderful. Ben could take care of the girls, I could get away for a day, and wonky blood sugar would just be part of the plan.

I used to use this as an excuse to not fast, ever. But lately, I’ve been feeling that since I know it’s something God wants me to do, I need to trust Him with all of my physical needs, especially the ones that come up because I am obeying Him by fasting.

Obviously, I’m not going to get crazy with this, and fast often, or for long periods of time, but I’m thinking I’ll start really small, and see how it goes.

Why do I think it is important to do this? Two reasons.

The first is that in the New Testament, Jesus talks about how his disciples were not fasting “while the bridegroom was with them”, but implied that once He left, they would fast.That seems to suggest we should, too.

In Psalm 35:13, the Psalmist writes about how he “humbled himself with fasting.” I know that not everyone believes that we need to fast, but I believe that there is much benefit to being humbled in that way – brought to the point where a very basic need is surrendered to God, so that we are continually reminded of our need for Him.

The other reason I think it’s important is because I want the Holy Spirit to control my body, not my stomach. Oh, this is a such big one, guys. It is so big, in fact, that I’m going to have to save this one until tomorrow, or else this post will get honkin’ huge. Plus, it’s the part that is more uncomfortable for me to share, so you have a day to brace yourself….

See you tomorrow!