The Gospel, My Health, and My Weight

Feeling bad and feeling bad about myself are closely intertwined feelings for me. I have felt bad physically for a long time. It started with chronic sinus infections about 3 years ago. I took an antibiotic now linked to tendon rupture and developed pain in my feet which turned into severe plantar fasciitis. In the fall of 2010, I finally had sinus surgery. 6 months later (and with the discovery of a dairy allergy) I found long term sinus relief. But the pain in my feet got worse and worse, and with it, my ability to exercise or do much of anything healthy. I’d have short bouts of relief, but the pain would come back in waves. Last fall, we discovered I had some type of inflammatory arthritis which complicated everything (people like me with one autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes also are at a higher risk for developing another autoimmune disease like inflammatory arthritis—apparently, my body just tends to turn on itself). Finally, at the end of January this year, I had surgery on my foot.

Since about a month after the foot surgery, I’ve slowly edged back toward the land of the fully functioning. I walked slowly, then walked a little faster, then jogged a little, then jogged a little more. I bought new running shoes last week. I’m signed up for a 5k in two weeks. I’ve built up to a therapeutic dose of my arthritis medicine (and cut out gluten). I’ve lost a little weight. I’m feeling much better physically. And I feel better about myself.

As I jogged today (just 2.8 miles, walking .8 of that), I thought a lot about why I feel so much better about myself. Why am I so much happier now? I have several friends who are right now smack dab in the middle, or even worse, of what I was physically experiencing just a few months ago, and I hope and pray for them to feel better about themselves in the worst of it than I did!

I want to endure hard times with joy, confident in our future glory in a way that sustains me in the midst of current discouragement. Doesn’t the gospel secure for me that hope?! But ongoing physical discouragement is a rough one to navigate. And the clarity that comes with the relief of feeling better makes me long for a more hopeful gospel-centered reaction when I’m at my worst.

I wish I hadn’t felt bad for every bit of food I ate during that time. But as my endurance got worse and my weight edged up, I daily felt guilt, guilt, guilt for pretty much every bite I ate. I love good food, and I can easily overeat because I savor rich flavors. I certainly could learn more about moderation. But EVERY bite shouldn’t have made me feel guilty. Unless it was a salad or low carb protein, I felt shame for every bit of comfort food I ate. My fear of gluttony didn’t help me eat less. It only served one purpose – to make me feel bad about everything I ate. I really believe there has to be a better way to think about food when you’re in such a season. But when you know you aren’t burning any calories, every bite above mere survival seems excessive.

I also wish I didn’t feel bad for feeling bad. I had legitimate physical problems! No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t go for a walk most days, let alone a run. I tried a rowing machine on the advice of my podiatrist, but eventually my shoulder gave me big problems before I figured out the arthritis issue. When my shoulder gave out, I struggled with a mixture of bitterness and guilt. “Lord, I am TRYING. I know all about gluttony and laziness, and I don’t want to lay around all day. But each time I try to make headway toward better endurance, I just get kicked down again.”

As I think back, it’s so much easier now to extend myself grace for that period of time. I could barely WALK some days. It’s OK that I didn’t exercise and enjoyed a 2nd helping of my favorite meal many days. But society doesn’t project that kind of grace on us (at least not from afar – I certainly received that kind of grace and encouragement from those closest to me).

During these better days, where I’m able to exercise, my clothes aren’t so tight, and I’m generally feeling upbeat over my health, I want to lecture myself in clear terms on the gospel, my health, and my weight. Because I have many friends who are still right in the middle of the worst of their health crises. And also because I know at any time I could enter my own new crisis.

Here’s my lecture.

First, fatigue and laziness are two very different things. Second, enjoying food, even if it’s more than you need to stay alive, is not the same as gluttony. And third, Christian discipline does not demand that we feel bad about ourselves when we simply feel bad physically, even if it’s a long term, ongoing physical ailment that results in gaining weight. 

Feeling bad about yourself for things that are not sin issues rarely helps solve anything. Instead, PRAY! Ask God to be clear about what is and what is not a sin problem. Ask for peace so that you can rest when you need to and eat when you need to without guilt. And ask for relief. Cry out to the God who Heals! He may answer quickly, or He may wait a long time. He may wait until heaven. Receive the waiting time as a gift. Don’t view the wait for healing as a holding pattern with no discernible value. I don’t understand it, but I have no doubt that God places some kind of supernatural value on waiting periods. There is BLESSING in the waiting, and it is a miracle. However, I can’t ever remember a time of waiting in my life when I recognized its value WHILE I was waiting. It’s always after the fact that the value makes itself clear to me. I pray in the future I could readily receive the gift of waiting AS I AM WAITING.

Isaiah 30:18 (ESV) 18Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. 

Isaiah 40:31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. 

Lamentations 3:25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.

There’s nothing like feeling bad for a very long time to make you incredibly thankful for feeling good. If you are still in the middle of a season of debilitating physical issues, I encourage you that this season doesn’t define you. If you are IN Christ, God speaks beautiful words over you of your value and His acceptance of you. Do wrestle with God in prayer daily over what if anything He’d have you proactively do. And then REST. Rest mentally and rest physically as you wait for Him to be gracious to you.

16 Responses to The Gospel, My Health, and My Weight

  1. Anonymous May 8, 2012 at 6:42 am #

    Hi, Wendy.

    This is my first time commenting. I've read your blog for just over a year now and purchased “By His Wounds You Are Healed.” I have been encouraged and sharpened by your words, deliberately and graciously pointing to the Gospel.

    This post tonight is exactly what I needed to read – especially the verses. I really related to what you had to say, not in terms of ever experiencing a chronic physical illness- but waiting for other prayers answered. As we are waiting, we have our “daily bread” – just what we need for this day, and sometimes that is the wait itself. Thanks for that reminder!

    Along those lines, I wanted to add – This applies to waiting in the midst of mental illness too. I know I have been in the midst of depression and knowing (with my brain, so to speak) the hope I have in Christ but not able to feel it or experience the immediacy of it due to mental illness. So, to anyone else who is experiencing that, know – The wise and true words in the last paragraph apply to you: “… this season doesn't define you. If you are IN Christ, God speaks beautiful words over you of your value and His acceptance of you. Do wrestle with God in prayer daily over what if anything He'd have you proactively do. And then REST.” He will be gracious to you!

    Thank you for reminding me of His sufficient grace, Wendy.

    -D

  2. modernmom May 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    I love this post, Wendy. Long time reader, infrequent commenter.
    I think Christianity is seriously lacking in the grace dept. on many issues. How do we balance grace and sympathy with what is also a very serious epidemic of gluttony and obesity within the Christian faith? In many circles, eating is the only thing that is “allowed”.
    I am very healthy, although I too love rich foods in moderation. But I have a very big issue with a pastor who preaches every sin except gluttony.
    Any thoughts?

  3. Donna May 8, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Thanks, Wendy. Once again….

  4. Wendy May 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    “A pastor who preaches every sin except gluttony” — ugh. He'll preach against it when he finally stops struggling with it, I imagine.

    I much prefer a pastor who preaches as much against the sin with which he personally struggles as any other, because he's going to also present how the gospel offers hope for struggling with it.

  5. Wendy May 8, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Thanks for the comments, and thanks, D for adding mental illness to the consideration.

  6. Ann Sandifer May 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    Wendy and Modernmom: Had a former pastor who loved to preach often on the sins of gluttony and sloth which are areas with which I struggle, as well as to preach on other sins involving idolatry. Yet sadly we were not always offered the hope of the Gospel to go with the strong warnings on sin. It was as if once you know the Lord that it was in our own strength we were to accomplish all things “righteous.” I heard little of God's grace in this. I don't think this pastor and brother in the Lord meant to come across legalistically, but that is how it came across to me. I walked out of church Sunday after Sunday feeling beat up and saying to myself, “O, WHAT a sinner am I! (eyes on me) instead of “O WHAT a Savior we have in Jesus!” (eyes on Christ where they should be). Without faith it is impossible to please God, so if I did what was “right” but without conviction of faith, but rather because my pastor said so, that would surely not be pleasing to our Father. I understand, Modernmom, yourconcern, just that was the opposite of my experience and without the clear hope of the Gospel and God's grace to sanctify us, such teaching can drive one towards unbelief and into depression. This is why your writings, Wendy, have so blessed me this last year as I struggled in a number of areas of my life, your pointing us to the hope we have in Christ. I have SO needed to know that I was “not condemned in Christ Jesus,” and that we can do ALL things though Him Who strengthens us. I have seen the Lord's steadfast faithfulness and goodness particularly this year as I have struggled on these fronts, and I have found that the truth in Christ is what motivates me to do what I ought. Thanks, Wendy, for this sweet reminder to wait on and rest in and seek the Lord. Seeking His face is always the right answer no matter the problem. Giving thanks to the Lord for your faith, for your honesty and for encouragement in Christ!

  7. Luma Simms May 8, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    Struggling very deeply with guilt over every bite. Developed a problem with eating during my first marriage and subsequent divorce…it hurts…thanks for the post, Wendy.

  8. Anonymous May 8, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    I am a runner and it took a bout of plantar fascitis for me to realize that I used running as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted. The day I finally fell on my knees before the Lord in conviction and repentance and admitted that some days I loved chocolate chip cookies more than Him was the day I was set on the path of reconciliation and healing. This is a tough path and I'm thankful for this encouraging post and your very helpful book on Ephesians.

  9. Elisabeth May 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    This really speaks to me in my current health struggles, thank you for sharing.

    I am also interested in learning more about autoimmune diseases. I've got a couple of them myself and would like to learn more about how they work and how to try to avoid getting any more. Have you found any good resources?

    Also, have you ever tried Juice Plus? I have not tried it myself, but am thinking about it. I recently spoke with a woman with autoimmune problems (particularly MS) and she said Juice Plus has slowed down the disease for her.

  10. Wendy May 8, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    Elisabeth, I've heard of Juice Plus but have no experience with it.

    I have gotten valuable information and help from my Naturopath (who is covered by my insurance and works with my traditional doctors). If you have the ability to get in with an ND who will work with traditional doctors, I recommend it.

    Mine put me on a B Complex vitamin and extra Vitamin D which I believed has contributed positively to my health.

  11. Anonymous May 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    Guilt over every bite-pretty much sums up my relationship with food. Though it is not the actual food that is my idol, but the number on the scale it produces.
    We discussed this in our church group a few months ago and it was surprising how many people felt that being over weight was an indication of their walk with Christ. The question was raised “Can you be fat/chubby and in Christ?
    Your article reminds us of Christs grace. I am so very thankful for that!

  12. Anonymous May 9, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    Wendy, I read this post yesterday and the word and peace of God washed over me. I have struggled with food and an eating disorder for many years (and have really been having a hard time lately) and I found your thoughts so timely, so helpful, so grace-giving, so encouraging. Thank you.

  13. Wendy May 10, 2012 at 12:58 am #

    Thanks for your comments. I trust God will give each of you wisdom and peace about this.

  14. Sarah May 13, 2012 at 5:09 am #

    Thanks for this. I've struggled with obesity in the past and seen God graciously set me free from it, years later, in his timing. Currently struggling with a big health issue and not feeling well a lot of the time, but am thankful that others are faithfully walking me through this trial in prayer. So glad that in heaven, our bodies won't distract us from Christ!

  15. Jennie B May 16, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

    Thanks. I needed to hear this!!

  16. Nicole W. November 14, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    A friend of mine who's praying with and encouraging me through lots of hard battles right now sent this to me today. Now, I can't stop crying.
    This is exactly how I feel. Our physical ailments are different from one another, but other than that, I don't know if I could have ever said this any differently or any better.
    I'm probably going to read this ten more times.
    Thank you so much. (I've never been to your blog before, but rest assured, you've just gained yourself another follower.)

    Nicole W.
    Raleigh, NC