By Sarah Nyhan
I’d apologize for not writing as often, but my priorities have shifted to something even better than writing: living real life! I’ve been re-engaging with the world. After years of being stuck on the same hamster wheel in my mind. Over and over, furiously pedaling away – but getting nowhere. My joy and life is returning in bits and pieces and I’m loving it! Parts of me that I used to enjoy and haven’t seen in years and years are returning. Hope and love are very good things!
On that note, for all my efforts before accepting God’s unconditional love, certain fruits of the Spirit seemed to always elude me. I felt so much guilt about this. How could even non-Christians have more “fruit” than me? I was slaving away for the church and reading my Bible every day, going to multiple services a week, etc. It was an embarrassment and a quandary.
Well, I think the reason is that I misinterpreted fruit of the Spirit as fruit of my efforts. It’s interesting in contrast now how effortless the real changes in me have been.
Before I’d wonder why someone in the Bible said we’d throw our crowns at Jesus’ feet. My attitude before was well-intentioned posturing of humility. In that I truly tried to be humble, but I saw all my effort and intellectually I knew I shouldn’t take credit and should give all the “glory” to God, but deep inside it felt more like my work than His. And that is probably a red flag for what mode I am operating in.
Now I understand the picture of throwing our crowns at His feet. Now I get it. True change comes from being loved and accepting that love. It comes from the inside out. Not through effort. Not an intellectual exercise of the mind. But from the heart that has been saturated in Spirit goodness and feels safe.
You may have forgotten what this feels like. Remember a time when you were so deeply in love with someone? You didn’t think twice. Doing the right things was effortless and even a joy!
The gauge in my own life has always been my health. Or as most would probably perceive it – my battle with losing weight. Whenever I have been “in love”, eating the healthy things and exercising has been a joy. But the minute I don’t feel safe, my body “protects” me by packing on the pounds to shield me from whatever threat is present – most commonly a person or people.
But I didn’t have that clarity or insight for almost my whole life. Only in the past two years has this become clear to me. Have I given myself a break. Have I been kind and nice to myself.
Before, I went so far as starving myself for 11 days on two occasions, and another time for 18 days. Only water. No food. My electrolytes so out of whack that I could barely walk. Every other week I would put myself on a restriction diet of some sort. If only I’d try harder. In vain I would try to force myself to care more. It never worked. It only led to alarming levels of despondency.
Compare that nightmare to my experience for almost the last year. After my 18 day starvation stint last year and feeling closer to death than I admitted to anyone, I vowed never to do that to myself again. I vowed to always be grateful for food and enjoy food. I told myself that I would not do anymore restriction DIEts ever again!
But Sarah, you don’t drink caffeine and you try not to eat chocolate or processed and fried foods? Ah, yes! But let me explain the difference. And hang in there with me – there is something so spiritual even in the physical.
There is a WORLD of difference now! First of all, I don’t tell myself that I am not allowed to drink caffeine or eat chocolate or processed/fried foods. I give myself FULL freedom to eat those things – if I truly want them. But the catch is now that I don’t have any rules, my decisions come from a better place. Now I evaluate foods not on whether I should have them or not – as if there is some rule book out there from God or anyone else. But now I rather make decisions on how the foods make me feel.
Now without some law hanging over my head like a guillotine, I instead am starting to become aware of how foods make me feel for the first time in so long. I am totally free to drink caffeine – but it causes me to have massive headaches and it is an annoying diuretic for me. So out of finally feeling love for myself because I am embracing being already 100% loved and accepted and included by my Creator, my Father – only now am I able to be nice to myself and choose to not have caffeine because it doesn’t make me feel like I want to feel. This is total internal locus of control versus being motivated by shame or guilt.
Another example: my allergies flare up when I eat most processed wheat products. I feel like I can’t think clearly and I don’t have hardly any energy. Yet now I give myself complete freedom to eat as much processed wheat products – IF I want to. But now that I feel fully loved and accepted by God, I am becoming aware of how badly I feel when I eat processed foods. So the choice is so much easier.
There is an element of physical addiction to some foods, elements of finding new habits to replace old habits, and still working through ways to face emotions without emotional eating. But all in the context of complete and absolute freedom to do what I want now.
This actually leads to more personal responsibility rather than mayhem. Now I only have myself to blame if I feel bad. Because in most cases the choice was mine to put what I put in my body.
This fruit of the Spirit’s love and total acceptance is true and almost effortless self-control. Certainly no relation to the grin and bear it posturing I did before.
I mention this because whenever people hear that I believe everyone is “already included”, the religious types’ first response tends to be – “But then that means you’re telling people they can do whatever they want?!” Followed up by something akin to, “How will people do good things if they aren’t scared of God or hell?”
My experience has been the exact opposite. Even Paul said the purpose of the law wasn’t to keep it. It is only when I stopped making decisions from a legal context and switched to living relating in relationship, did I start having true respect for and valuing myself, God, and others.
I’ve heard people argue things such as, well then you’re giving people permission to cheat on their spouses? I guess you could extrapolate my words to that extreme, BUT then the real and bigger problem exposes itself. Not that the person cheats, but that the person WANTS to cheat. Why? The behavior is only a symptom. There is probably a cesspool of ignored feelings and issues at the core of that desire. Unlimited invitations to deeper intimacy within each spouse and their relationship with God and each other. But that is much harder work than just laying down a law that says don’t cheat.
I’ve heard someone say something to the effect of, “Well if there is no law then you’re saying I can go out and get high on drugs.” Again, I guess you could take it to the extreme. But again, the issue is not the behavior. When you have unlimited freedom then you alone are responsible for your choices. And my questions would then be not “is it legal” but rather: “Are you prepared to pay the cost required by society for violating any laws against possessing illegal drugs?” “Will getting high have any negative impact on your life or those you come in contact with?” “Is that the best use for the money you will spend on getting high?” “Are you comfortable with the example you are setting for those who look up to you?” And probably so many more questions to the same.
Do you see the difference? This is only the slightest touch on the topic of self-control. Books could be written about the ways I now see true manifestations of the other fruits of the Spirit in my life: peace, patience, gentleness.
Obviously it’s not good to allow stronger people to exploit those who need protection, but as a mental exercise for your own exploration – I invite you to ask yourself deeper questions. Just take a look inside and identify a situation where you have been gritting your teeth and making decisions based on “shoulds” rather than “wants”. Ask yourself what your behavior, your choices, your decisions would look like if those “shoulds” were eliminated. And then identify your true motivations behind your desires. Not just the surface stuff.
For instance, if you are only not cheating on your spouse because you “shouldn’t”, then ask yourself what your motivation would be to cheat on your spouse if the “should” of being sexually and emotionally monogamous was lifted. Why do you feel like you can’t get what you want from your spouse? Is this sudden or has this been a building problem for some time? Do you desire to desire your spouse again? If not, why? How does God speak into this situation to you? Etc etc etc.
You don’t have to act just because you have freedom. Even Paul says not everything that he is able to do is good for him to do. The point is to start thinking things through. To explore what is really true in your relationships with yourself, God, and others. And then live.
This takes courage. It sometimes seems easier to disconnect and deflect to a legal paradigm that doesn’t ask me to engage my heart. However, in the long run that weight proved unbearable for me. How’s it working for you?
If you don’t know where to start, I suggest first asking God to help you see how He sees you. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised and relieved.