It has been a long winter.
There’s something about the cold weather, the mostly-cloudy days, and the early darkness that causes me to want to put on my robe, turn on the television (or pick up a book), and…eat. Really, now, there’s nothing that dulls the sharp edges of a bitterly cold day than a big plate (or two) of comfort food, which in my case means fried food. And the effects of the long, cold winter are readily evident in my tighter clothes and the gradual up-tick of the scales.
There are many aspects of my southern heritage I am proud to claim, but my eating habits are not among them. For many in the south, food is just not food unless it has been thrown in a frying pan. The crispy glaze of friend chicken, chicken fingers, French fries, fried okra, and any other assortment of fried foods you can imagine remain a significant weakness for me. I wonder who had the idea of taking that relatively-healthy staple of Thanksgiving – the turkey – and throwing it into a deep fryer? Whoever it was, thank you. That’s the only way I can eat it.
I come from a culture about which the great southern writer Roy Blount, Jr. wrote, “The way folks were meant to eat is the way my family ate when I was growing up in Georgia. We ate till we got tired. Then we went ‘Whoo!’ and leaned back and wholeheartedly expressed how much we regretted that we couldn’t summon up the strength, right then, to eat some more.” Yes, that was my upbringing, and those are my people, and in many ways I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
But there comes a time to face facts. The way we eat is killing us. Southern states have higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and a whole range of other almost completely preventable diseases, all of which can be traced to the way we eat.
The way I eat.
I believe this is a deeply spiritual issue. Christianity is at its root an incarnational faith. We believe “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” This enfleshment of the Word is God’s eternal affirmation of bodily existence. The world is not to be run from, but engaged; our bodies are a gift from God, a means through which we live, and love, and serve God and others. We were not intended to treat our bodies with disdain, to knowingly harm our bodies through indulgence, but rather to recognize them and treat them as wondrous gifts.
Every time I intentionally eat more fruits and vegetables and limit processed junk food, I feel better in numerous ways almost immediately. The weeks that I take the time to run at least four days I can tell a significant difference. Why would something that makes me feel good and helps me have more energy to be present to my family and friends and the congregation I love and serve be so hard for me to do? That is the real question, I think, and one for which I don’t have an easy answer. I would love for those of you who share my struggles with discipline in eating and exercise to post how you deal with it and maybe some strategies for success. But at the end the day, I return to what I think is the heart of the matter.
This is a spiritual issue. In my work as a pastor, I spend a lot of time reflecting on the ways Christ is present in the world, right in the middle of the mess. I believe Christ is at work in the middle of this mess as well, in my failures as well as my successes, revealing his glory, shining his light, helping me to see.
So this week I began training in earnest for the San Francisco Half Marathon. I ran this last year and had a great time, followed by a delightful visit with my two brothers who live there. This year the whole family is going with me, and we’re going to spend a week out there. My friend Clarke Oldham is flying out to run the race as well, and he is always a good motivator for me.
I have re-committed to eating a diet that will help me succeed in my training – as Michael Pollan writes in “Food Rules” – I’m going to try and “eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”
I’m not going to make big predictions or set lofty goals – I’m just going to trust God’s grace, put one foot in front of the other, make good daily choices, not obsess when I have a set-back, and did I mention trust God’s grace? When it is said and done, we all of us live by grace in every aspects of our lives, including our health.
“Oh to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be;
Let that grace now, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.”
It has been a long winter. But spring, at long last, is here.