It's time to break up...
There’s a relationship you need to end. It’s not good for you.
These were the words whispered into my heart as I drove in silence. Silence, because when life gets busy, I’ll turn the radio off as I drive, creating an opportunity for me to chat with Jesus and better hear His voice.
What? What relationship?! I questioned.
Now I should tell you that a few days prior to this car ride I had read in Genesis 22 about the Lord calling Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. In response I had directly asked God to reveal to me the things in my life that I’ve been holding too tightly. The things He wants me to offer up. To surrender. To sacrifice. (Now I had heard that God is always willing to answer these sorts of questions, and apparently it’s true - as long as we provide Him with a quiet space to respond and patiently anticipate His answer.)
I had assumed He would again remind me that I need to let go of my desire for control. Or my desire to always be right. (Why, hello, pride! I see you’ve crept back in!).
But a relationship?! I hadn’t anticipated that response.
I guess this will make more sense if I start at the beginning…
For most of my life I’ve exercised regularly and eaten healthy. Don’t get me wrong, mac-n-cheese is my go-to comfort food, and I have a weakness for chocolate chip cookie cake. And of course there have been crazy busy periods in life that didn’t lend themselves to regular work outs. But for the most part, some sort of exercise and minimizing dessert has been normal for me.
I previously shared some of the circumstances that led to my faith reversion several years ago. It was in response to stress and the overall feeling that I had lost control over what was happening around me that I began to obsessively control other areas of my life. I’ve also told you about my lifelong history of comparing my body to others - friends, strangers, airbrushed models on magazine covers, fitness models on Instagram. These comparisons always led me to the conclusion that physically, I just wasn’t good enough, and for years I spoke unkind words to myself every time I looked in the mirror. Well together, this period of stress, combined with my desire for control, along with my longing to achieve some ridiculous goal of “body perfection,” slowly caused a shift in nearly every aspect of my life.
Before I knew it I was lifting weights 5-6 days per week. Menu planning, grocery trips and meal preparations were taken to a new level, as I was literally counting every protein, fat, and carb gram that I consumed. (And let’s not forget I was still trying to cook a dinner that my whole family could eat together!) To accomplish all of this (while maintaining a full time career and living out my roles as wife and mother) I was waking earlier and staying up later. 5-6 hours of sleep per night was my norm. In hindsight, I was exhausted!
Through a variety of circumstances and for a variety of reasons I stopped my obsessive gym and diet regime. As expected this led me to gain back those few pounds I lost. Muscle tone went down and body fat went up. The clothes I had bought during my obsessive diet and work-out craziness no longer fit. Physically, I was so unhappy with myself. And it was during this time that God revealed two very important things to me:
First, He allowed me to see that even when I was wearing those smaller clothes, I still thought my body wasn’t good enough. I always felt there was room for improvement. It was as if the image of “body perfection” that I was chasing was a carrot that would forever dangle just out of reach.
Second, He revealed to me the truth of who He says I am. He has shown me the beautiful names that He calls me and has helped me to accept them. To own them. He has helped me to stop speaking unkind words to myself, to stop the ugly name calling that I did for years. When I reflect on where I was and the healing and freedom that His love has offered me, I am once again brought to tears.
Now as I write out the above details of my gym schedule and calculated food regimen, I can see that it was all absurd!! But you have to realize that while I was living it… it all seemed normal. In fact, it almost seemed … required.
You see, at that time I slowly came to believe that achieving the perfect body would somehow make things better. Would make me better.
Gradually, without realizing it, I began to associate my worth - my value - with my physical appearance.
I allowed my clothing size … to define me.
I allowed my body fat percentage … to become my identity.
None of this was intentional or deliberate. But it happened. My gym time and diet started out as a way to be physically healthy and to better manage stress. They weren’t inherently bad. But before I even knew what happened, I had turned them into an unhealthy obsession through which I was essentially trying to “earn my worth.”
Pastor Timothy Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, is quoted as saying,
“Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially ‘deify.’ We will look to it with all the passion and intensity of worship and devotion…”
In other words, allowing anything or anyone other than God to determine our value or to define us will ultimately result in idolatry. We will begin to “serve” that person, or thing or ideal. In essence, we will become slaves to it, just as I clearly became a slave to that ideal of body perfection. (Remember I pointed out that keeping that crazy schedule almost seemed required?)
So what relationship does God want me to give up?
He wants me to give up any relationship in which I’ve allowed someone or something other than Him to determine my worth. To determine my value. He wants my meaning in life, my sense of security, and my identity to ALWAYS be rooted in Him.
And this, I have learned, takes effort. He has shown me that I must be intentional and deliberate in all that I do. Because it is so very easy to SAY that my identity and value comes from God alone, while I slowly slip into a pattern where my ACTIONS DEMONSTRATE OTHERWISE. There is sometimes a subtle line between HONORING A GOOD THING and TURNING A GOOD THING INTO THE BEST THING.
As I reflect on my life I can see that at times I have allowed a variety of different things to define me or to determine my value…
Achievement in school. Success in my career. My role as a mother. Always being in control. Approval of others. These are just a few examples.
Perhaps you have a different list…
Financial security? Relationships? Appearance? Social media acknowledgement & approval?
I’m sure other examples exist as well.
Right now we have only a few days left until Christmas. A few days left to prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus – the Son of God who became man. He came out of love to save us. To free us. Right now I think He’s telling me that the thing I need saving from most – is myself.
From now until Christmas I’ll continue to pray that He helps me identify all of the things that I’ve allowed to somehow define me and determine my worth. I’ll pray that He gives me the grace to “break up” with them, as I acknowledge and embrace the truth that my value and identity come only from Him. And I’ll repent and ask forgiveness for the idolatry in which I participated.
Perhaps you’ll want to whisper the same prayer along with me?
To everyone who continues to read this blog - along with all of my ramblings on Instagram and Facebook - I wish you a Merry Christmas filled with the Peace and Joy that can only come from being in relationship with Him.
And as always, I’m praying God breathes life into these words…