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Warring with Flesh

flesh vs spiritI get very critical of myself for not being unified enough, for being duplicitous. There are two notes left on my bathroom wall staring at me every morning. One is of Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you,” and the other is Psalm 86:11, “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth: give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” They serve to remind me that, whatever progress I have made, I haven’t arrived at “finished” yet. Sometimes that realization can be overwhelming. There are days like today, when my defects and failures seem bigger than my goals, dreams, purpose or personal value. Even as I write just now, I recognize that I am merely listening to the wrong voice – the accuser rather than the Redeemer.

I still struggle with Step One, afraid to introduce myself at meetings as “a compulsive overeater” without clarifying that I am “gratefully recovering” or some other such disclaimer. I am not who I was. I am constantly being remade by a loving Creator. So how do I acknowledge what I was with the tendencies that still haunt me while being faithful to look forward to the work being done in me without feeling as though I should have two faces?

The Apostle Paul, the great missionary of the early Church, struggled with this too. The “New Testament in a Year” reading for today was Romans 7, known for Paul’s description of this inner battle. He concludes it saying, “So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:25b, NRSV). Apparently, as long as we are draped in the tent of these physical bodies, we are sentenced to drag around with us the tendencies that come with being made out of meat: craving, lust, inflammation, death and decay. There will be a point at which we are liberated from them though, and it is that Independence Day for which I now prepare. The more I live according to the Spirit today, the less alien I will be on the day of spiritual deliverance, and more at home I will be in my new accommodations. Heaven isn’t about the place anyway, but about the Host.

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a, NRSV)


20140726-083952-31192187.jpgLast night while I was trying to sleep after a day filled with failures and character defects in full bloom, it occurred to me that maybe my Tenth Step work needs some help. I opened Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the original AA one.

Before I turned to Step Ten, I finished reading the rest of Step Seven, the chapter my home meeting group didn’t quite get through last week.There I found the one statement in the book to which I was introduced years before my coming to program, and which I still see as the book’s primary highlight (although I am infinitely grateful for the rest of it too):

The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear – primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded. Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration. Therefore, no peace was to be had unless we could find a means of reducing those demands. (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, “Step Seven”)

That passage was originally introduced to me by a marriage counselor in session. Maybe he sensed I was an addicted person and maybe this trouble is just common to all humans, but my unsatisfied demands were a chain around my neck then and perhaps they still are. My closest relationships are where they most readily reveal that they remain cinched around my throat. The links of anger, hurt feelings, disappointment, and inadequacy pinch and tear away flesh under the weight of fear, and I am powerless, by myself, to cast them off.

Step Ten told me, however, that

…no one can make much of his life until self-searching becomes a regular habit, until he is able to admit and accept what he finds, and until he patiently and persistently tries to correct what is wrong.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, “Step Ten”

The Our Daily Bread devotional today, written by Julie Ackerman Link, was based on a reference to Isaiah 17:1 and 11, and said in part:

Apart from God, the work of our hands will become a pile of ruins. But when we join with God in the work of His hands, God multiplies our effort and provides spiritual nourishment for many.

The devotion closed with a quote from Jesus Christ:

“Without Me you can do nothing.” —Jesus (John 15:5)

Dear Father, today, I confess that I have been running along on my own way without enjoying my fulfilling relationship with You. As I wandered, I began to feel the grip of Self and it’s defective character choking me and my other relationships. Thank You for the reminder. Forgive my selfish ways, Lord, and deliver me from them. I am so helpless without You. Please lead me in Your Way, so I don’t run ahead of myself again. I willingly submit to Your guidance.

Dear God,

man bowed in prayerMy relationships with other people are not going according to the grace with which you bought me and established relationship with me. I want what I do and say to be an overflow of the joy I have in You, and yet bitterness keeps coming out. My feelings still get hurt though I recognize that those around me are spiritually sick. I have a tendency to forget that I am still sick too, recovering from the spiritual disease of Self, and that others need my patience rather than my dictates about how to get well.

Help me to remember there is nothing I can do to right anyone’s wrongs, neither those of my own nor those of others. Keep me humble and mold me into a representation of the grace You offer to all mankind. Instead of making me attractive, let the way I live be an attractant to You. I confess I am still dragging around old defective character traits, which I offer again to You to remove in Your timing. Help me loosen my hold on them so they are at Your disposal. Self still swims about in the soup of my emotions. Please filter it out and keep it from factoring in my decisions. Help me treat people the way You would have me rather than the way that best serves me.

I am grateful for the restoration You have accomplished, but I know that my sanity still bears the cracks and holes of its once shattered condition. I know its leaks are manifestations of my own reluctance to surrender all to You. Please remedy my leakiness. I want to be a trustworthy vessel for You. Please take all the broken pieces and mend me the way that only You can. I am unable to repair myself on my own. Just to think I might is another defect of prideful selfishness.

Give me an undivided heart, that I may honor Your name. I long for the integrity that can only come from working with and in You. Make Your purposes my only motive, Your call my only mission, Your love my only resource. Make me more like You.

In the name of Christ Jesus who was broken for my wholeness, Amen!


Psalm 86:11 (NIV)

Teach me your way, Lord,

   that I may rely on your faithfulness;

give me an undivided heart,

   that I may fear your name.

Dear Sponsor,

I am concerned about a little weight that has been gradually creeping back on. After two months of watching it climb, I have guessed it is likely related to the change in activity level since I retired. Since I am no longer spending twelve hours a day outdoors and moving around, and am spending more time cooped up at a desk studying, I suppose I need to make an adjustment. Therefore, I have reduced my calorie target by one hundred calories per day. I plan to remove the 100-calorie red potato from breakfast you suggested as brakes to stop the weight loss. I think it is time to take the brakes off as long as I’m no longer as mobile. If you remember I had to make a 100 calorie adjustment when I moved from the office to the outdoor assignment; now I’m just adjusting it back. I am surprised it took me this long to recognize the cause.





After spending some time introducing myself to a new acquaintance yesterday I realized it had been some time since I had written in my online recovery journal, and it could use some reintroduction. So allow me to reintroduce myself.

silhouette progressMy name is TL, and I am recovering from compulsive overeating. I have been freed from a body weight of 320 pounds and now maintain a healthy 185. I lost 150 pounds in fourteen months initially, and was told by my doctor I had lost too much and needed to put on a little weight. I had been hypertensive; now I am free of my blood pressure medicine and have bouts of low blood pressure, which I’ve been told is normal while my body adjusts. I struggled with severe gastro-esophageal reflux disease; but now my eating habits and God’s providence have kept that in check. I had nearly constant joint pain; now I have begun a running exercise regimen – something I never thought I would do, let alone enjoy. My family had pretty much disowned me, and my brother had actually forbade me from seeing his children; now I am the one the family comes to for encouragement, advice, and support. Even my grown kids, who had fled the house to get away from me have either moved back in and enjoy relationship with me, or seek me out at every available opportunity. My wife has even enjoyed some of the benefits of recovery, though it is hardest at home. She has gone from daily considering why she ever vowed to spend her life with me to a grateful and (mostly) happy co-union of marriage.

I met my first sponsor my first week of abstinence, when I knew nothing more about abstinence than, “We practice abstinence by refraining from eating between meals and from all individual binge foods.” That’s how simple it was for me in the beginning and how simple it can be for you too. Abstinence is key. Our plans of eating and action just keep us as far away from those forbidden fruits as possible given our willingness. One piece of advice that I got when I first started is to record everything I eat. I do that and publish it online to stay accountable: here with LiveStrong’s MyPlate application. There are several others that work just as well.

“The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 66)

I like to imagine the things on my abstinence list (cakes, candies, cookies, sweets, ice cream, nachos, eating directly from the container, eating between meals) as a molten lava pit. Abstinence is simply a list of what and how we will not eat.  As I form my plan of eating, I march a wide path around the mouth of that volcano. If I say, as some have unsuccessfully tried, that my PoE will be merely to stay abstinent, then I have blazed a path on the fragile lip of the narrow edge of the mouth of that volcano. One slip and it’s game over – a tumble into relapse which, for me, is death. Because I do not wish to die, I develop a plan of eating that keeps my path far from the mouth of that volcano. If I am not allowed cake, then I do not go around thinking, “As long as it’s not cake, it’s okay.” I research healthy eating and plan my choices based on that research. If nutritionists, cardiologists, dieticians, and cancer researchers all agree that salmon, sweet potatoes, raw almonds, Romaine lettuce, blueberries, bananas, unprocessed whole grains, and other superfoods are the best fuel for a human body, then I take that as a notice from my Higher Power that is what I’m supposed to eat. Then I add the proper portions according to my calorie goals, spread them out over the proper time table, and I have a plan of eating. A plan of eating is not just a food plan. A food plan is a grocery list that says what we will eat. A plan of eating has amounts and times; it tells how much and when we will eat. The great news is that when I plan to eat according to this super-healthy plan and slip a little, say because I am out of broccoli and have to substitute green beans, I don’t fall directly into the molten lava of Candyland, forced to give up my service positions, start over with a white chip of surrender and do it all over again. I just pray to my Provider, “Lord, You have given me all I have, and I am grateful for this fuel You have provided. Please make it enough to last until Our next meal together. Thank You for abstinence, renewal, and abundant life!”

It takes a little work to make this happen. I have to spend some time chopping vegetables and boiling beans. I pre-package things so I can eat them on the run. I always carry a spare meal of canned goods with me in case I get stuck away from healthy options, and I replenish that meal quickly once I eat it, so that I am not without an option for the next day. I also carry a partial bag of raw almonds and a measuring cup that serve as a substitute or augment a meal that doesn’t meet standards when eating out. I have to plan my meals, and that takes work. This action is something I consider investment in my health. This action plan works with my plan of eating as tools to build for me the abstinence I choose. I can’t build a structure without tools, but the tools aren’t the structure.

For more about my plan, check this out.

I celebrate progress. No one can lose a hundred pounds. No one has the power to say to even one pound, “Get off me!” We can, however, put down a fork. We can choose to wait until mealtime to eat, and we can eat that meal God would have us eat rather than what we feel like eating. If we continue to do that, “we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”* That’s the power of “keep coming back.”

I hope you find the joy of recovery as you seek to gain your freedom from food obsession.

God bless!


* Reference to Galatians 6:9


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