On Not Giving Up

Week one down, a lifetime to go.

This week has been a test of my will; the daily struggle caused me to constantly evaluate the changes I was seeking to make in my life. Daily. Literally daily, I entertained the idea of quitting. To give you a better point of reference: I’ve cut all carbs and sugary junk food out of my life. Complimenting this abstinence has been my intention to pray more often and incorporate more physical activity as I am able. Fast and pray, right?

Well, you never really learn just how addicted you are to something until you decide to give it up. Looking back, I lived from one sugar high to the next; between seven dollar latte drinks, instant-microwavable food, and a steady attachment to desserts, I was killing myself. Leaving all of this behind was hell. Most of last week I was nauseated, unable to think straight, unable to stay awake during the day, and unable to go to sleep at night. I would actually take time to plot ways of finding a dessert that could pass as healthy or ‘low carb’ enough for me to be able to fit it into my regimen.

Throughout last week, throughout my sacrifices, I was steadily looking for the loopholes. I was looking for ways to feed the desires of my flesh while keeping the bear-minimum of my new healthy lifestyle. And this behavior of trying to see how I could continue to get by with doing less, at this point, could be the tagline for my autobiography. I’ve always done this. I’m lazy.

More than being lazy, I lack faith. By not ever going ‘all in’ or by seeking comfort in material things I have precluded myself from trusting God fully. Padre Pio once described the Christian life as a “perpetual struggle against self.” Among the innate tendencies we struggle against, I think comfort and safety are among them. We have little faith that God will solve our problems so we frantically try to solve them all ourselves. We do what we don’t think God will. The result is, more often than not, misery. When we try to take on in our lives the role that belongs properly to God, we quickly realize that we are not God. It is our lack of faith that prevents us from surrendering, and we pick ourselves up from disappointment and go racing towards our next disappointment.

Last week I had to face hunger, boredom, anger, and hopelessness with no other resolve, but prayer. All of the feelings and sensations that I could typically numb with unhealthy distractions were now left bare. I had no other recourse but God. It was uncomfortable. Taking control was well within reach, but I could not reach. I had to be vulnerable before God, and my family. Last week was hell. Enduring such an immense amount of discomfort, for me at least, was the beginning of healing. It was the beginning of being whole again.

On Saturday I was able to grab coffee (regular black coffee, with just a bit of half-and-half) with two of my best friends, Josh and Braylin. I’ve been friends with Josh for 10.5 years now, and Braylin for 9. These are friendships that began in high school and have managed to last throughout college and into early adulthood. As I departed from the few hours we had spent together, I reflected on the longevity of these friendships. Many opportunities have presented themselves for each of these friendships to cease; to continue no more. Josh, Braylin, and I have grown into three seemingly different directions in our lives. The only reason our fraternal bond has withstood these changes was the fervent intentionality with which we approached it. With all the disagreements and differences, the three of us have decided not to give up.

Not giving up. Not giving up in the face of an insurmountable struggle. That is what this first week has been about.

The degree to which I have spent years giving myself over to the base desires of my flesh has, in many ways, rendered me unrecognizable. Like an addict going through rehabilitation, there will be a period of withdrawal. There will be moments when I struggle in my relationship with God, with my vocation to my wife and children, to my family and friends, and in my commitment to good health. The point is that I cannot give up. I most keep moving forward. Most importantly, I must trust that God is my portion, my fulfillment, and that nowhere else can I find the satisfaction found in Him alone.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Progress Report: As of 1/8/2017, I have lost 9.5 lbs.

Religion = Relationship

Jesus assures us that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. St. Paul asserts in his writings that a freedom exists in the life of a Christian. Wouldn’t it make more sense that St. Paul was not inviting us to abandon a moral and holy lifestyle but to embrace love instead of legalism?

“God did not ask us to follow Him because He needed our help, but because He knew that loving Him would make us whole.”   -St. Irenaeus of Lyons

I think it’s important to consider that religion (adherence to a set of beliefs) and legalism (the position that obedience to the law is the pre-eminent principle of redemption) are not the same. Religion, for most Catholics and orthodox Christian traditions is very much rooted in love and devotion to a merciful God. Additionally, there are many cases when a believer proclaims “Relationship!” over their view of religion with an ulterior motive in mind. It is no secret that the downside to the common, misguided view of religion exists in all of the restrictive rules and regulations.

Love, in its purest form is the gift of self to another, a sacrificial lifestyle. When we choose to view all of the sacrifices required of us in Christianity as obligations and not as acts of devotion, our views take on a legalistic identity. Furthermore, throwing out all of the ‘rules’ for a more basic, free-form gospel is not the remedy for religion but a perpetuation of misinformed opinions. Maybe, if we gave up everything, took up our cross, and followed Christ we would experience true freedom? All because we did it out of devotion and not of duty? As we continue to walk with Christ, we will find that a life lived in Christ is much more demanding of us than a life lived in obligation. All Christians would do well to ecumenically say “it’s not legalism, it’s love” as opposed to “it’s not religion, it’s relationship”. As these two statements are not the same in any regard.