How the Gospel Helped Me to Lose Weight and Live a Healthy Life
On May 22nd, 2009 I reluctantly embarked on a journey. At my all-time highest weight of 294 lbs, my wife encouraged me to sign up for Weight Watchers (or WW as we abbreviate it) online with her. Basically, we would track our food online without the time commitment of the typical meetings for which WW is known. I didn’t have hope that it would work. However, I knew that I had to try, if not for myself, for my wife. And so, with a few clicks of the mouse, the journey began.
I can tell you many things that I have learned on my journey that are purely physical, but my personal transformation was a spiritual one. My weight was a symptom of deeper spiritual issues that needed to be addressed. And, in addressing them, I have become a better person and better pastor. Here are a few of the things that I learned:
Lesson 1 – Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that comes true because of the belief that it will. With many people in my extended family struggling with their weight, I was certain that my ‘genetic code’ destined me for obesity. I had been overweight my entire life and did not hope for anything more. I believed so deeply that I was destined to be overweight that I would make choices that would lead me down this path. For example, I would not exercise because I believed that I was too fat to get out there and try it. I would eat more than I should because I believed that being large meant I needed massive amounts of food to survive. In reality, I was living out a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ that led to me being almost 300 lbs. Now, I know that I don’t have to live that way. I can make choices that lead me down a healthy path toward a safe, comfortable weight. Like a prisoner who realized that the cell door had been unlocked all along, I want to proclaim Christ’s freedom to others who are trapped in their own ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, whatever that may be for them.
Lesson 2 – The Life-Giving Gospel: I had to come to grips with the fact that I was gambling with my life and passively committing suicide. A recent study published in Science Daily said people who are over 80 lbs overweight are short-changing their life by 10 years. By living at 294 lbs (100 lbs or more overweight), I was likely to lose at least 10 years of life. Tim Keller said that the Christian life “is a process of renewing every dimension of our life – spiritual, psychological, corporate, social – by thinking, hoping and living out the ‘lines’ or ramifications of the gospel.” The gospel even changes my physical health. If I believe that life is a gift from God, I should do what I can to survive and thrive in the life (and body) entrusted to me. This required me taking a hard look at reality and opening myself up to receive the life-giving, transformation of God. As God transformed me inwardly, that reality was expressed outwardly through choosing life physically by living at a healthy weight. As a result, I believe in a deeper way that the Gospel changes every arena of life and culture.
Lesson 3 – Self-Esteem: By far, the most important internal lesson I had to learn was one of self-esteem. Before my weight loss I believed that I was only valuable when I am serving other people. Taking time to exercise or focus on myself seemed selfish to me. I would give my left arm to serve others, but would not take that time for myself. And, if it came down to priorities, if there was an item on my to-do list or someone to serve, I would choose to do for others ahead of myself. This all sounds very spiritual; after all, Jesus Himself defined love as self-sacrifice saying “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). What I realized, though, was that by taking care of myself, choosing to be healthy and in control, I am offering a better version of myself to others. I cannot give fully of myself without taking care of me. Jesus, when asked about the most important commandments, also said “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). We can only love others to the extent that we love ourselves. I had to realize that I am worth the investment of being healthy and give myself permission to take time to care for my body. As I daily choose to take some time to love and serve myself, I offer a better version of me to love and serve others.
I could share with you many more lessons I learned. I learned that our culture makes it easier to live an unhealthy life. This is true both spiritually and physically (fast food is cheaper and easier to get). I learned that a negative must be replaced by a positive. Losing weight can only fuel your excitement for so long. The “don’t” of weight loss eventually must be replaced by a “yes” to healthy living. This is true in our spirituality as well. The “don’t” of the law must be replaced by the “beatitudes” of Jesus. I have learned so much and have much more to learn.
Today I weigh 194 lbs which is 100 lbs less than when I started. It took me one year to lose and this May marked two years of keeping it off. My wife and I were featured in Weight Watchers national ads (TV, Web and Magazine) and we are happy with where we are today. However, these were not just physical changes, but spiritual changes that worked themselves out in my body. Because of the lessons I have learned in my weight loss journey, I feel that I can offer a more balanced perspective on ministry and offer a better version of myself to others in my service to Christ.