This post was originally published at sbcIMPACT on January 14, 2009. Since then, I have had some health problems and can no longer call myself “the best conditioned morbidly obese man in America” – plus that sumo guy did that marathon a couple of weeks ago anyway. But I am approaching this from a self-control perspective and trying to do something about the problem. All you young guys, remember this: it’s a LOT easier to keep the weight off than to take it off. Hope you enjoy this!
Everywhere I go I carry with me a public testimony to my failed struggle with self-control. I am more than 100 pounds over the recommended weight for a man who is 6’4”.
It has been a frustrating battle. I have lost around 800 pounds on diets, only to have those pounds return with a few of their friends. I have exercised strenuously. No kidding, folks! I have ridden RAGBRAI twice. That’s a seven-day, 500-mile bike ride across Iowa. And I still gained weight. I have completed a marathon in each of the last 3 years, and still gained weight. I have sometimes referred to myself as the best conditioned morbidly-obese man in America.
On a positive note, it was hilarious when I came around the bend to finish my last marathon. It was the Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, New Mexico. You cross a desert and go over a mountain and finish on the White Sands base. The looks on the faces of the people as I neared the line were priceless. “Look, Eunice, Do you think the fat guy really did the whole race?”
I did the Death March on March 30th. A few months later, I tipped the scales higher than I had ever weighed. I have lost the battle.
Why? Why can’t I lose the weight and keep it off? It’s my metabolism, right? Thyroid? A trip to my family reunion might give me a genetic excuse. But really, in my heart I know the answer. My metabolism and genetic makeup may be contributing factors, but there is something more to this.
Simply put, I lack self-control. Do you realize how many calories you have to consume to complete marathons and still gain weight? I have trouble controlling my desire for food. When I start eating, I have trouble stopping.
Like many fat preachers, I have joked about my weight and been the object of many jokes. I’m not that sensitive about it. But I read a verse today that struck me to the core. It is 1 Corinthians 9:25-27. In this passage, Paul describes the life he has lived in the service of God. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath.” Great champions discipline themselves to train for a goal – a championship, a contract, fame and glory. Paul adds, “But we (exercise self-control) to gain an imperishable (crown).” He controlled his body and its desires so that he could serve God more fully and faithfully. The passage then concludes with these words. “So I do not run aimlessly. I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and I keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.” Wow!
I know that I am saved by grace and that God loves me the way I am. But I am also coming to realize something I don’t want to admit. When I stand in the pulpit on Sunday with buttons popping, I am in a very real way undermining my own credibility.
Dr. Howard Hendricks shared a story with us in seminary. He was talking to a man who struggled with drunkenness. “God can give you the power you need to control your desire for alcohol,” he asserted. It was then that the Holy Spirit whispered in the back of his minds, “How can you tell him that when you have no control over your own appetite?” He took that message seriously and lost the extra weight.
I was at a state pastors’ conference, and there was a speaker from Lifeway. My BMI (Body Mass Index) is ridiculously high, but I doubt that I was in the top 10 at that meeting. This man got very direct with us. He told us (in much kinder terms) to get up off our lazy backsides, exercise a little, and eat a salad now and again. He went over all the ill effects of obesity and how it is hurting pastors, raising Guidestone’s insurance rates and generally wreaking havoc.
I know all this. I can’t even play a game of basketball anymore. My knees hurt and walking up a flight of stairs is a challenge. My asthma kicks in and I can barely breathe. I have to sleep with a C-PAP machine. Yet, knowing all this, I have continued to give in to my physical desires and eat too much.
Here’s my point. I’m not looking for sympathy (or the secret to your diet success, please!) I am using my own experience to make a point. My lack of self-control is not funny, though I have made thousands of jokes about it. My lack of self-control is no one else’s fault but my own. I cannot blame it on anything or anyone else.
I need to treat this issue as what it is – a spiritual battle. I cannot excuse it, rationalize it, justify it or make light of it. It is an important spiritual issue. Paul brought his body under control so that he would not undermine his credibility and integrity in any way. When I stand before my people in obvious obesity, I am not giving testimony to the life-changing, power-giving, desire-controlling power of the Holy Spirit.
The good news is found in Galatians 5:22. “The fruit of the Spirit is…self-control.” If I will walk in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, he will empower me to control the desires of my body. If we preach transformational power to the adulterer or drunkard, we should also preach it to the obese.
I am looking forward to the day I can stand before my people and demonstrate to them that the Holy Spirit can give them control over their bodies and their physical desires. “I used to be morbidly obese,” I will say. “But God renewed my mind and helped me to see this in a different light. Then, the Spirit empowered me day by day to make wise and healthy choices and that is why I am only two-thirds of the man who used to stand in this pulpit.”
Wouldn’t that be better than making jokes about my weight?