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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Wednesday Festival: How People Change

Today's post is from Anita at Dreaming Beneath the Spires:  How People
Change or Sanctification.

I have heard two remarkable stories of spiritual transformation in the last
few months.

A friend from a family well-known in Christian leadership and ministry told me how he rebelled in his mid-teens, chain-smoked, lived with a series of women… When he was 40, a serious sports injury left him immobile; his girlfriend asked him to move out, his work made him redundant. So he was left single, homeless, jobless, and immobile, and had to move back with his parents. It was his Jacob moment. He surrendered his life to Christ, invited all his siblings and friends to a ceremony at which he burnt his last cigarette, and never smoked one again.

Another was from an amazing pastor. As a teenager, one of his parents, who was dying, killed the other in a quarrel, six months before their own death. Grief-stricken, he slipped: heroin, cocaine, alcohol, causing deep physical damage. In despair, he cried out to the Lord, “If you are real, take away my desire for drugs.” Well, God did. He gave up drugs, and is a driven and passionate evangelist, out of gratitude to God who set him free.

Very cool.

How I love these stories of instant dramatic change.

Mine however has not been like that. It has been slow, slow, slow,
but I have changed.

I had a fiery temper, and over the last decade, have learnt to get it under control,
though I still lose it some!! But there is much freedom and joy in thinking things
over, thinking about the objective I want to achieve, remembering Jesus, changing
addresses, so to say, moving myself away from maelstrom of anger and indignation
into living in Jesus, surrounded by him.

Roy also has a fiery temper, and I used to wonder if it was escapism to retreat to a quiet place of God’s love and eternal truths, in the Psalms for instance, while his anger reverberated fearsomely. (He’s generally mild, but when he loses his temper, well...) I decided, Nope, it wasn’t escapism. The Rock of Truth is the rock, no matter how tempestuous the ocean. God’s love is steady, despite the storm. Scripture is an axis for one’s life, even if someone has just lost their temper with you, making your internal world feel unsteady. So mentally and spiritually, in family life, you sometimes need to go into your room, lock the door, and sail away into the quiet sea of God’s love. The truths which are always true.
* * *
Yeah, that battle with out-of-control anger is mostly won, I believe. I can process my anger with God rather than the person. The battle with forgiveness is not as huge as it used to be. As far as my deceitful heart knows, I walk in forgiveness, fully achieved, or in process!

* * *

So what battle do I now wage with Apollyon? Which, as in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress can only be won by the two-edged sword of the word of God and prayer.

I believed I had no addictions, after I broke my coffee addiction.

Not so. I have just finally acknowledged a embarrassing, deep-rooted habit to myself, which is perhaps an addiction.

James says: Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.

Well, I sometimes have.

But my default method of dealing with uncomfortable emotions gets quick results. Sad, low-spirited, depressed—Eat chocolate. Happy and high—eat chocolate, which I unconsciously associate with happiness. Stressed, bored, empty—eat chocolate.

Chocolate works; it produces results. It contains tryptophan, which triggers the release of endorphins and serotonin, which decrease stress and depression. It contains phenylethylamine, the "chocolate amphetamine" causes changes in blood pressure and blood-sugar, leading to excitement and alertness. Its anandamide activates dopamine, a neurotransmitter which leads to a sense of well being. Its theobromine produces a sense of mental and physical relaxation and increased alertness.

There are other things which help me feel as high as chocolate does. I can listen to scripture while jogging in place or dancing. I can read beautifully written spiritual books which can make me feel hyper and excited: Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, at the moment, or Frederick Buechener, or John Eldredge, or Willard’s Divine Conspiracy or Piper’s Desiring God. Playing worship music while dancing or tidying up induces a change of emotional state. As does prayer.

Or running. Or yoga or gardening.

But, you see, chocolate, or chocolate biscuits, or crisps, or comfort food—ah, that induces a change of state far more rapidly! There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25).

Ah, haste. Hurry up. Quick. Fast. Speed. Words which are death to the spiritual life. Dallas Willard writes “Haste has worry, fear, and anger as close associates; it is a deadly enemy of kindness, and hence of love.”

So, to be honest, this is the humililating “Valley of Humiliation” in which I currently battle Apollyon--my tendency to medicate stress, boredom, sadness, low mood, reverses, life with a highly-strung family with food, especially chocolate and sweet stuff.

And so I am trying to break a habit I started in my teens. Low mood: eat. Stressed: Eat. Bored: Eat.

Put off, put on: That’s a consistent New Testament formula.

Put off mindless seeking for comfort in things which will cause distress later (weight gain, and being excessively hyper).

Put on: stopping work when chocolate craving overwhelms. Changing the activity. Seeking joy in God who delights the soul as with the richest of foods. Exercise with Scripture. Read a spiritual book, some good old lectio divina.

Yeah, it’s a bit embarrassing that I am waging this sort of low-level basic spiritual battle after being a Christian for 22 years.

But waging it, I am, and I am determined to win.

I so want to change, and taste God, and the pleasures of God when I am low-spirited, bored, stressed or depressed instead of the quick, easy, deceitful pleasures of chocolate.

1 comment:

  1. This is really profound and thought-provoking. As I read about the struggle with food as a spiritual battle, it makes me think of the The Screwtape Letters. Wormwood advises his nephew that it's much better to distract with these low-lying temptations than something big. He counsels that we can be led away from the gospel much more easily down this sort of path.


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