“...let us lay aside the weight and the sin that so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1
I have carried my share of weight never intended for me. I have been literally obese at 265 pounds and spiritually obese with worries and sins and shame. My body has been an allegory for my spirit.
I took on the weight in my body during my first pregnancy in 1988, but truthfully I had been creeping in an upward direction for a few years before that. That’s the insidious thing about weight, you tolerate a few pounds and a size or two or discomfort in your jeans and if you’re like me, you remain intentionally in denial of what’s really happening. During that pregnancy though, what was hidden and secret became impossible to ignore. The first non-pregnancy clothing I bought after my son’s birth was in a plus size store and a size 22 skirt. Roughly speaking, I was up 80 pounds. I don’t exactly remember as I let the numbers float over my head when the doctor weighed me and warned me about my excessive gain.
Pregnancy number two came in six months and unexpectedly (my mother recommended the Mr. and I watch more television). A six month old at home, mounting stress, immaturity and another baby on the way. I kept gaining. Maternity clothes were difficult to find so I had few and did little. I finished that pregnancy in a size 22-24. Elastic waists became my best friend.
I had a fantasy in which I was thin and beautiful but no determination to bridge fantasy to reality. I was in a state of heart I would only call existence. I loved my boys so that was a source of pleasure and distraction rolled into two perfect little packages. My marriage was turning uglier by the day, not unlike my body. The Mr. and I had a common interest, food. I could win his favor with a good meal, his favorite snacks or a dinner out.
I told myself that motherhood had elevated me beyond vanity and so my weight was acceptable in my role. I was neat and clean and wore comfortable “mom” clothes. Moms don’t need to wear high heels or look or feel attractive. They only need to be good moms. I worked at that and lost myself. I told myself that bigger was ok, in a way it was empowering. So I lost myself in that too. I was in a marriage headed for divorce and felt no desire to feel desirable. I lost that part of myself. I lost so much of myself that I was a huge empty shell that I continued to attempt to fill with food.
God remains forever faithful even as we are foolish. Whatever parts of my life I was willing to truly surrender, He took and made right. My boys are jewels. My marriage was healed. And still I ate. I had accepted the weight that had so easily beset me even as I attempted to run the race before me. Somewhere in that time I threw away the fantasies of a thin and beautiful me and decided I was meant for fatness. Or at least I could tolerate it. I could live with it as my life was happy and rich. I’d just be the fat woman. Fine.
Spiritual obesity is the same way. I think that’s why Paul draws us to the concept of weight and sin that besets (troubles or harasses persistently) us. Once we’ve accepted the Christ of salvation, we start attacking those sins one by one and identifying what needs to go. The weight though, the weight is different.
My spirit was as overweight as my body. My heart was full of things I should have laid at the cross with my sins. I was convinced, though, that certain aspects of my heart and my mind were my own responsibility to fix. The irony was that I had surrendered my life, but not all of my life. I didn’t lie or cheat or steal or murder...these I gave away my rights to. But I held on to hurt, disillusionment, offense, shame, anger, bitterness, disappointment, fear and much more. I thought it was my job as at the Christian to bear these little crosses. I thought that’s what the writer meant when he said, “take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). I thought it was a mark of valor to bear my great weight.
Weight of the body and the mind affect us in ways of which we are aware and those we are not. At 265 pounds I slept poorly and awoke tired. I had sore feet, legs, back, everything. I was lethargic and short-tempered. I didn’t want to be around anyone and called it a “loner personality”. My stomach hurt, my chest hurt, my head hurt. I called it poor stamina. I didn’t participate in physical activity and explained that I’d never been athletic. I never said, it’s my fat. I can’t do this, or I must do that because I am fat. I didn’t even tell myself the truth.
My spiritual weight held me back as well. I kept people at arm’s length but never knew I was missing out on joyous friendships. I called myself spiritual, a deep thinker and believed my high standards were why I didn’t touch people in “the world”. I peered at my pastor and church family through self-righteous lenses and found no one worthy of their position or my trust. I heard the spoken and the unspoken from those around me and assumed the worst. I was too smart to let someone who had hurt me hurt me twice so I threw relationships away with ease. I applied the same microscope to my own life that I did to everyone else and found myself lacking too. And I hated myself. And I was too ashamed to feel God. I didn’t want Him to look at me. It was a relief somehow to not feel His love because then I wouldn’t feel my lack of worthiness.
My overweight body isolated me and buried the real me under layers of physical fat and emotional shame. No matter what I attempted I thought of myself as “the fat woman who...” There is no hiding the fat woman. I dreaded social events, especially those when people who hadn’t seen me in years would be present. I’d dress up and push the reality far from my mind. I would never, never say that I didn’t want to be seen. I’d say I don’t like those people, those people don’t like me, I hate social events. I’d make an appearance if there was no escape, but I’d exit as quickly as possible. I’d tell myself that I was dressed in pretty clothes and that people would call me a pretty fat woman, and that was ok.
The fat limited me into a smaller and smaller space and hid me behind a larger and larger curtain until there was no me to be seen. My spiritual weight did the same thing. It convinced me that it wasn’t really hurting me, it isolated me, it shoved the creation of God aside until I was barely recognizable.
The end of the charade came one September day when I prayed the prayer I always had, “God make me thin tonight without dieting. Let it be a miracle and I will praise you. Make me never want food again. Amen.” But the spiritual fat girl had been working out for a while at that point. She had been cleaning house and throwing away the weight of her heart. She had given up her rights to her heaviness and learned to walk lightly in joy. The spiritual fat girl was getting lighter and leaner and stronger. So I added an addendum to my prayer, “God, show me who I really am and what this fat body really looks like and what cost I’m really paying. Take off my blinders.”
Scary prayer, take off my blinders. It was a rough few months after that. I had become adept at looking in mirrors and seeing myself in small parts. Blurring the edges and not looking too hard. Now I saw, I really saw, me. Two hundred and sixty five pounds on five feet and five inches. Sloppy, large, unhealthy. I looked unhealthy. My complexion was too ruddy. My hair was limp. My eyes were dull. I looked tired and I had dark circles that make up couldn’t touch. Then I started feeling unhealthy. I felt the heaviness in my chest with minimal exertion. My legs ached and my feet ached and I felt it in every nerve. My back hurt. I became acutely aware that I didn’t sleep well and so I wanted to doze constantly. And all of this became uglier and uglier to me. And I asked God again, “let me see the ugliness.” And I saw a woman killing herself and a woman who was making herself incapable of God’s calling.
I went to Weight Watchers. I prayed for my leader and my husband (who went with me) and myself. I prayed over my food and my mind. I made it spiritual the moment I realized it’s all spiritual. The weight had so easily beset me, but it didn’t so easily be-leave me It was work. But after one week, with only a little bit off and over a hundred left to lose; the heaviest weight was gone. Shame. I wasn’t ashamed any more. I was the same size but I was different. My spirit was reshaped.
Yes, I lost all the weight after three years. Yes, it is sometimes still hard. Yes, it is worth it. The weight fools you. It makes you think it’s pleasure, but it is the pleasure for a season that kills. I don’t hurt anymore, in body or spirit. I can reach out because now my spirit is light with real LIGHT and my body is no longer in my way. I have decreased so He can increase (John 3:30). I got out of my own way physically and spiritually.
When God tells me to approach someone on His behalf, there is no fear of what they will think of my body. There is also no fear of my spirit being unprotected. I am light. He is Light. It’s a good combination. Run with confidence. Lay aside the weight.