Like many Americans, I struggled for decades with my weight. As an American woman in the 90’s, I was constantly bombarded with images of waif thin women and fad diets. Being a thicker girl in that era I never felt good enough. I was told over and over again to strive and try to be someone else’s version of “better”. This morning my husband and I were talking about how messed up my mind was because I used to actually be jealous of my anorexic friends. I had tried over the years to starve myself but felt I never had the self control to stick with it. I wished I was the kind of person who lost their appetite during stressful times as opposed to someone who likes to eat my feelings. Plus growing up in American church culture, it seemed to me that gluttony was the acceptable sin. Not only did I never hear it addressed, it seemed to be celebrated at every potluck and women’s events as jokes of pies and cakes filled the air. Over and over I was encouraged to overeat. It took me years of counseling and countless hours alone with The One Who Loves Me Most to realize that so much of my weight issues were really heart issues. I had gotten in the habit of ignoring any dark emotions by simply filling my belly and stimulating my taste buds. It took me decades to learn how to be truly healthy and a huge a-ha moment came when a dear friend of mine opened my eyes to the evil that is “diet culture”. A culture I had grown up in. A culture that lied and said if I could just get the right combo of calories, nutrients, and supplements then I would have the waistline I was desiring. And if I had that flat stomach, then I would be worthy of the love I had been craving.
The last few days God and I have been talking about how not only is a yo-yo diet damaging physically because your body never settles in to getting what it needs, but it is damaging spiritually too. And that is the heart of this post: the danger of yo-yo spirituality or spiritual diet culture. I love how the physical world mirrors the spiritual. Physically so many of us fall for the lie of diet culture and end up doing harm to our bodies. Today’s culture says it has to be a quick fix. For me it started with Weight Watchers in middle school, then led to binging and purging (which I discovered through an after school special that was meant to scare me but instead inspired me). I have tried shake after shake, cleanse after cleanse. Diuretics were too painful to last long. I spent my money on packet after packet, plan after plan thinking I was a failure because I couldn’t get anything to stick. But in true God fashion, in the process that was unhealthy, He made a beautiful thing happen. I learned how to feed my body what it needed in a way that sustains and energizes me in the long run. I don’t do it perfectly and to be honest I have struggled since getting married because when you combine being blissfully happy and in love with gyms closing then having weird hours because of the quarantine, it’s hard to stay on the wealthy wagon. And as an American woman I unfortunately still fight diet culture. The lies of diet culture tell me that I need to hunker down, cut out, and move more. Diet culture tells me to obsess over the number on the scale and make sure I can still look stunning in my wedding dress without having to double spanx. But I am determined to fight it and not give in to its empty promises. For me that looked like putting the scale in the trunk of the car and sticking to pants without zippers that I look stunning in. It looks like eating the desert with my husband during our latest Netflix binge after getting a great workout in. It looks like embracing the truth that there is no quick fix and that the “illusive” goal is crap. It looks like daily feeding my body what it needs while also enjoying what it wants. It is the daily making wise choices and being aware when the second helping of chocolate chips moves from enjoyment to stress eating. When the stress or mindless eating begins, I now know need to pay attention because it is a “check engine” light on my heart. Diet culture has not only invaded the American physical world, but I believe it has invaded our spiritual world too, at least in American Christianity. The first time I remember clearly recognizing it was “The Prayer of Jabez”. At the turn of the last century (I don’t know if saying that makes me want to laugh or cry), “The Prayer of Jabez” was a book that centered on a simple prayer in the Old Testament. Shortly after my first six month stent on the mission field, I came home to person after person telling me how this book will “change my life”. Since I’d stepped away from American Christianity for a while it was easy to see how once again people were falling for a quick fix. Now don’t get me wrong, the book is really great and the man who wrote it used the proceeds to help others. But I didn’t read it until about ten years after it came out. I didn’t want to deal with the aftermath of yo-yo spirituality. I didn’t want to fall for the lie this this book, this prayer would be what changes my life. When you yo-yo diet, your body is left feeling discouraged and sicker than it was to begin with. Your hormones get all out of whack because your body feels the affects of the instability. The same thing happens with yo-yo spirituality. I believe one of the greatest lies the enemy uses on the American church is the next quick fix. The pervasive belief if we can just get the right combination of prayer and action to “unlock the blessings from heaven.” How many times have you seen someone who professes to be a follower of Christ tell you if you just _____ then God will ____. If you just sow this seed of $1,000. If you just fast this long. If you just pray this prayer. If you just stop that sin… Just like in the garden when the serpent lied to Eve and twisted the promises of God, the enemy lies to the us twisting Godly actions. Playing down the importance of consistency in our daily walk and turning relationship with Jesus into trying to get the right vending machine code seems so appealing at first. But it’s in the consistency that relationship is developed. I know I am newly married but it didn’t take us long to realize that in busy seasons, if we don’t set aside time together then we will not grow closer together. We started with walks before work when our schedules got really crazy. We now set the alarm early to make sure we start our day together with God. It isn't always full of emotions and on mornings like today when the alarm woke me from a deep sleep, it is a choice I force myself to make. If when our schedules are busy and we get in the habit of just saying “hi” and “bye” to each other six days a week, then on Sunday having a nice long meal together, our relationship not only wouldn’t grow closer, but we would drift apart. We could try to fix the problem by every couple of months or once a year getting away for a luxury vacation, and I’m sure if we were sitting on the beach or hiking some stunning trail, we would feel a closeness. But those feelings wouldn’t be a result of a deep relationship, but only temporary feelings because of new scenery. We would fall into the lie of yo-yo relationship. Not that there is anything wrong with the vacations and adventures. When the world opens up again, I can’t wait to take Chris to Budapest and show him the lights of Fisherman’s Bastion. But trips like that will be the icing on the cake. The foundation of us spending daily time together, celebrating each other’s victories and comforting each other in times of loss will be what draws us closer together. When it comes to our relationship with Jesus, how many of us have fallen for the lie that says the Sunday service is the most important part of the week? That experiencing God in corporate worship is the goal, and that from time to time we need to go to a conference or retreat to sustain us is a lie many of us fall for. Around our house we have a saying: invite Jesus into it. What started as conversation between Chris and I about purity has turned into a mantra we apply to our daily lives. It is also the best advice we can offer anyone. Are you dating someone you’re not sure you should be with? Invite Jesus into it. Are you addicted to porn? Invite Jesus into it. Are your unsure how you will pay your upcoming bills? Invite Jesus into it. Do you have an anger problem that is killing your closest relationships? Invite Jesus into it. Is anxiety your constant companion? Invite Jesus into it. And the beautiful thing about inviting Jesus into our lives is it is simplistic and can be done over and over. And the over and over, the consistency, is what builds a deep relationship. When we start to cry out to God in our moments of need and choose to trust Him, our feelings of trust will grow. When we choose to set aside daily time with Him, our feelings of closeness to Him will grow. Like all relationships it won’t be all butterflies and happy moments but will deepen the more time we spend with Him. As a result, when our relationship with God becomes more and more a relationship less focused on our behavior, an amazing thing happens. He changes our behavior. Then when the next great book or conference or retreat comes along, we can enjoy it for what it is: a getaway with The One Who Loves Us Most. It goes from being an unsteady foundation to the icing on a very stable cake. So today, where have you fallen for the lie of yo-yo spirituality? Where are you tempted to think a quick fix is what you need. For me, in this season, I have had to fight the lie that fasting will make God move. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of fasting and am honored every time I feel God laying it on my heart. In fact, when I started to get to know my husband, the thing I found most attractive about him at first was that He actively practiced fasting. When we got married I felt God speak to my heart that it would be a while before He asks Chris and I to fast. Instead I felt God blessing the joy of our marriage and inviting us to dig deep in celebration. But in light of some physical issues I am dealing with, every couple of weeks as I cry out to God. I tell Him I am going to fast until I see Him move. Without fail I feel Him reminding me that now is not the time for me to fast. When I get past the pain, I realize my desire to fast isn’t based on me wanting God’s desires or His Kingdom. Instead it is me falling for the lie of the yo-yo, the lie that I can make God do something though my actions. I had a friend 20 years ago who had similar issues and felt God call her to fast for 40 days. It was through that fast God answered her prayer and her body reset. I remind God of that often and He simply reminds me that like Aslan told Lucy in “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, He never moves the same way twice. I am thankful that God in His kindness, after He has let me rattle on in my pain and anger, reminds me that now is not the time for me to fast. Instead He asks me to keep coming to Him, deepening our relationship, and trusting that He is moving in my life. To learn again that He does not bless me because of my actions, but He blesses me because He loves me. And so often He blesses me despite my actions. If you find yourself reading the end of this rather lengthy post, know I am praying for you. I am praying that today you so clearly hear the God of the universe beckoning you to go near to Him. To dig deep and establish consistency and know even more fully the joys that come with leaning into the heart of God.