Cancer. That one word can stop you dead in your tracks and change your world forever. Four weeks ago we found out that my mom has sinus cancer, her second cancer battle, so not only am I concerned for her well-being, I’m aware that my risk of getting cancer is higher. Of course, there are lots of things we can do to prevent cancer, like avoid smoking, avoid toxins, and eat all-natural whole foods. Right?
Obesity. We’re bombarded in the media by all kinds of dismal reports on the alarming rise of obesity and obesity-related diseases in our country as a result of the typical, nutrient-deficient, American diet. We’re told that we can live longer, healthier lives if we exercise and follow certain food rules. Role models who have beat their bodies into submission preach the gospel of a slim, fit body as our salvation from illness and poor body image. They flaunt their “before and after” pictures as proof that you too can be beautiful if you follow their rules. Self-discipline is all you need to have the perfect body. Right?
Like most people, I’ve bought into the claims that the “wrong foods” will hurt us, but the “right foods” can cure us. I’ve even had success on this blog perpetuating this same information. The highest number of hits has been on my “Breaking Free from the Sugar Addiction” post. When my husband and I decided to drastically decrease our sugar consumption 3 years ago, it was partly to lose weight and reduce our risk of cancer, but it was mostly because we had out-of-control sugar cravings and did not want to be a slave to food. God honored our desires, and gave us success. Since then, my husband has kept off the weight, but I’ve put it back on and have tried unsuccessfully to lose it the same way I did before.
(Now, before you go hating on the skinny girl who thinks she’s fat, let me clarify that I do not think I’m fat. I simply happen to gain all my weight in my belly, which means a couple pounds weight gain not only makes me have to buy new jeans, it makes me look like I’m pregnant. No woman who is not pregnant wants to look like she is, so please don’t judge.)
After several unsuccessful attempts to take off those stubborn pounds, I began to feel uneasy about it, and finally asked God if there was a reason why it was so hard. Was I still a slave to sugar and needing to be more disciplined in cutting it out of my diet? Was wheat the problem, since my husband has kept off the weight on the gluten free diet while I still eat wheat? Should I just accept my body the way it is and be focusing on eating the right foods to prevent cancer? I had so many questions for God, but I was not expecting the one he had for me. At the end of a daily devotional by Beth Moore, I read this question:
“How can freedom in Christ coexist with a zealously disciplined lifestyle?”
Wait, is she saying that it’s bad to live a zealously disciplined lifestyle? Doesn’t the Bible say being disciplined is a good thing? After wrestling with this question, God opened my eyes to the truth regarding my food issues, in much the same way he opened the Apostle Peter’s eyes. In Acts 10, we read that God gave Peter a vision of all kinds of foods that were off limits to Jews and told him to eat. When Peter protests that he would never think of eating something unclean, God responds, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” In The Message, the same verse says, “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.” God was about to send Peter to the home of a non-Jew, and did not want Peter to take offense at the food that was offered to him. God was more interested in Peter building relationships and spreading the good news of the gospel, than in enforcing a rigid set of food rules (which God wrote, by the way).
So what does this mean for you and me? I believe that the same zeal for purity in food that Peter experienced has resurfaced in our culture today, and if we’re not careful, we’ll end up no better than the Pharisees Jesus spoke against who were trying to be righteous by eating the “right” foods and doing the “right” things. Those of us who are Christians and have freedom in Christ need to be careful that in our zeal for healthy living that honors God, we do not unwittingly place a yoke of slavery to healthy eating on our brothers and sisters in Christ by insisting that only things that “God made” are okay to eat. “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”
The day before my mom started chemo and radiation, I read a lengthy article on all the things that can cause cancer, and how we should avoid all these “bad foods” at any cost. It’s no coincidence that I had already promised my daughter I would make corn dogs for her that same day, since she’d been asking for them for awhile. After reading that scary list, I practically begged my daughter to let me make anything else, but only corn dogs would do. I was about to launch into a lecture on the evils of corn dogs when God whispered, “If I say it’s okay, it’s okay. Relationship matters more than food.” So I invited my daughter to make corn dogs with me, and had a great time in the kitchen with her. I even threw in some tater tots to bless my husband.
When we sat down to pray for the food, like we always do, I felt convicted by the Holy Spirit. God was asking, “Are you really thanking me for the food I’ve provided for you? You ask me to ‘bless the food to the nourishment of your body.’ Do you believe that I can bless you with a nitrate-filled corn dog? Do not call anything impure that I have made clean.”
I can get uptight about not being able to afford organic meat and produce – or worse, make my family sacrifice in other areas so we can spend all our money on expensive food – or I can thank God for the food we can afford and trust him to bless it to our bodies’ use. I can fret and worry about arsenic in our rice and GMO corn in our tortillas, or I can thank God that these inexpensive foods allow us to live within our means, and trust God to make them clean. My faith is in God, not my food.
That’s the real issue, the answer to my question of why I couldn’t lose the weight again. God would not bless any effort that would lead me to put my faith and trust in an eating plan. He did not set me free from being a slave to sugar so that I could perpetuate my ideology and make others a slave to my way of eating. God will not allow me to put my hope of salvation in anything but Him. Whether we’re trying to save ourselves from cancer and disease, or are trying to pin our self-worth on a thin body and zealously disciplined lifestyle, our efforts to find salvation from food are nothing more (or less) than idolatry.
I find it interesting that there’s so much emphasis today on “cleansing” foods. Eating the “right” foods will not “cleanse” you; only the blood of Jesus Christ, our Savior, will. He died for you to set you free from bondage to sin and anything else – however good and noble a cause it may be – that would enslave you. Only He can satisfy your longings, heal your diseases, and make you whole.
So does this mean we’re free to just eat whatever we want? Yes and no. I’ve been mostly eating even healthier than I used to because one of the “fruits” or blessings of the Holy Spirit is self-control. When I submit my eating habits and attitudes to the authority of Christ, he gives me peace and self-control in return. Because I love God, I want to take care of my body in a way that honors him, and he blesses me with self-control to help me accomplish his good purpose for me. But if his good purpose includes eating “impure” foods from time to time for the sake of relationship and living within my means, then he will give me peace as I trust in him.
It’s not easy retraining myself to seek God’s input in my food choices, but it’s so worth it. Last week, my son suddenly announced that he wanted to make cookies with me. And because he loves me, he wanted to honor me by having me take the first bite. I could have said no to his requests, reminding him that sugar is bad for us, but I would have been serving my belief system instead of serving my son. I’m so glad God gives me freedom in Christ to eat the healthiest food I can afford without worrying when relationship requires my food choices to be subject to the law of love.
Let’s take food off the altar of worship and put it back where it belongs, on the table. “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).