It’s there every morning in my time with the Lord– brought back to me every day as I teach another math lesson to a child reduced to tears– hammered deeply into my head when someone hurts me. It takes me by surprise when my children fight and I respond with less than grace– brings me to my knees when I face temptation– flattens me desperately to the ground when I can see no way out.
I never knew how much I need Jesus.
I spent such a huge part of my Christian life thinking I needed Him for salvation (obviously) and definitely on Sundays and probably every morning, although really I did okay if I didn’t return to Him then. I believed I needed Him when my budget was tight or someone I loved was sick or my car broke down, but regardless of what I might have professed to believe, my life said that I didn’t believe I needed Him on a random Tuesday morning in April.
My God has worked slowly in my heart, over a space of years, to bring me to a knowledge of my deep need for Him. It started with a commitment to read the Bible every morning for thirty days. Ten minutes and a quick prayer and I was done. That was all He needed to start His work. Mornings in His Word became a part of my life, and after more than two years of morning Bible study, He began to convict me that my life needed to include real prayer as well.
I was afraid to pray, afraid to surrender in this area. I was so reluctant– felt like I had no idea what to say to God, other than what I said every mealtime, thank You for this food, or at prayer time at church, please watch over the missionaries and heal so-and-so. God had decided it was time, though, and truly there is no fighting His will when He starts to really work in a heart. I had been a pastor’s wife for a year and a half when I finally committed to pray. It was the beginning of something completely new.
Around the time I began praying in earnest– writing my prayers in my journal, praying more deeply and seeking God’s heart with more regularity– I also began to struggle with food in a way I never had before. Don’t get me wrong. I have always loved food. I was the kid sneaking the Little Debbie snacks up to my bedroom, the kid spending her babysitting money on candy at the drug store, the kid whose lunch in high school often consisted of nothing but chips and a candy bar– washed down with a Mountain Dew. As an adult I would lose weight and put it on again.
In 2013 I went on a diet and over the course of a year lost 50 pounds. I was working out regularly and eating healthy and it was awesome. And then there was 2014. I started on a new medication that gave me cravings and made the weight stick to me like it was glued there. And I started this struggle with food that hit me out of nowhere. I started bingeing until I felt sick to my stomach– and then I would eat some more. I prayed about it, would do okay for a week, then would fall again. I gained 30 of the pounds I had lost. I would say I was getting back on the wagon and I would fail, not just a little, but spectacularly– alternating days of healthy eating with days when I couldn’t stop putting food in my mouth. There was this desperation I couldn’t explain, and I felt so ashamed by it.
I read amazing books about eating and I did Bible studies and I would do well, sometimes for months at a time, but I was not losing weight even when I worked out and restricted my calories. The discouragement would drive me back to eating.
My spiritual life was growing in ways I had never expected as a result of my commitment to pray, but this one thing– this food thing that I couldn’t beat– was destroying my joy and causing me to feel defeated, shamed, and hopeless. No matter how well my day went, if I binged I felt like a failure. I confessed over and over again. I turned to God over and over again. I truly desired to do what was right, but when the cravings hit– it was such a deep thing. I felt completely out of control.
Friends, this lasted for more than a year and a half. I think it’s the first real experience I had with spiritual battle– and I wasn’t prepared for it. And I think God let me fall, several times, to teach me of my deep need for Him. Just Him. He is enough.
Last year, as I fought this daily battle with varying successes from day to day, God began to show me how the cravings of my flesh were an outward manifestation of the need of my heart for Him. I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that there are so many references to spiritual food in the Bible. Jesus is the Bread of Life. He gives us Living Water. His Word is compared to pure milk, to rich meat, to sweet honey. And as I began to ask God to teach me what that meant for me, He began to teach me that He is truly enough– truly sufficient for each temptation. He began to teach me that even if I never had another bite to eat, I could find real satisfaction in Him. He asked me to step out in faith and to believe that.
In October of last year the Holy Spirit showed me that I had been using food and eating to dull my senses to fear and to pain. It had become a kind of protective armor, a source of comfort even though I hated it. When everything was out of control, at least there was food. When someone said something hurtful, at least there was food. I was using food to comfort me, to protect me. It had become this idol that I thought I needed in order to be safe. And God wanted me to lay it down. He wanted me to trust Him to protect me and comfort me.
My year of sacrifice came to its head in October, when God brought me before an altar and asked me to lay down my idol of self-protection and trust instead to His armor, His Spirit, His presence. At that point it had been a year and a half since I started fighting this horrific battle of ups and downs, stops and starts.
Here is what I know. For me, food is a daily issue. It is not something I can ignore, not even once. It is a serious chink in my armor and Satan will attack me there every time I feel like I’m doing okay. I need Jesus here, in this area, every single day. And as I have yielded to Him, as I have fallen and gotten up again, He has taught me that placing boundaries around my eating is a way of binding myself to His heart. Daily I am reminded of my need for Him– this deep, desperate longing that will never be satisfied by food– as I deliberately and intentionally commit to limit my calories and to limit my sugar and to hold myself accountable before others.
Sometimes my flesh screams and rebels. That is what our flesh does, my friends. But it’s just flesh, and we are called to crucify it. God is greater. His Spirit in us is far more powerful than the strongest craving of my flesh. He teaches me to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to pant like a deer for the Most High God, not for ice cream or potato chips or fresh-baked bread.
This is my daily weakness, and I expect I will fight it for the rest of my life. But what a precious weakness it is, for it is the thing that most draws me back to my Savior. Daily I need Him. He is my daily bread. I need Him when I choose what to eat for lunch, when I go out for dinner with my family, when there is a whole groaning table of desserts at the church potluck. I need Him. And so I go to Him, and He gives strength and the sweetness of His presence. And when I fail, I need Him then too. And so I go to Him, and He pours out forgiveness and so much beautiful mercy.
This post isn’t really about food. It’s about need. And I fully recognize that some people will think it’s about food and won’t think it’s for them. I get it. But while you might not have a problem with food, I have no doubt that there is a thing in your life that pulls you away from daily trusting God. You might read this and wonder how could food be that big of a deal? but I will guarantee that there is something in your life that daily threatens to derail your faith and your walk with the Lord.
That is the thing that God wants to use to daily tie your heart closer to His. Each day I set up my boundaries– so many calories, so many treats– and I look at it as one more stitch in the binding of my heart to His.
And there is no better place to be than close to the heart of the One who loves me so very much.