“We are all in such a hurry, we want everything at once. We believe that all truth can be stated in a few minutes. The answer to that is that it cannot.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures
TLC has a motley collection of hair-raising shows, but My 600-Lb Life is, in my humble opinion, the most mesmerizing.
The woman in the episode I witnessed was brushing perilously close to 700 pounds. Jaw dangling, I listened to her explain to the doctor that she was starting to experience heart palpitations. The feeble wails of her cardiovascular system under a quarter ton of excess mass had finally convinced her to seek help. “I need a gastric bypass surgery,” she told the doctor. “That’s all I need, but no one will help me.”
Sidestepping all of the extremely likely complications with conducting surgery on a morbidly obese individual, the doctor simply asked, “How did you come to weigh this much?”
She shifted irritably in her seat. “Oh, I don’t know. I was always a bit heavy.”
“You don’t know?” I shrieked at the television. Maybe it was the three pizzas for lunch alongside the macaroni slathered in Velveeta cheese, the potatoes drowning in white gravy with the side of five loaves of French bread, and a casserole tray of brownies for desert (lunch-desert? Is that a thing?).
Fortunately, the doctor proved wiser than me. Instead of grilling her on her diet, he said, “What does food give you? Why do you eat?”
A story of abuse and abandonment eventually unraveled in that sterile, white examination room. Food had become the way that she managed her body, organized her surroundings and had her say in other people’s reactions to her.
She wanted control. Instead, her choices began to control her.
Missing the Presence of God
Wagging our fingers at the poor individuals on this TV show is all too easy. After all, we probably aren’t in that situation. We might be a tad fluffy, but it’s nothing some healthy eating and regular walks couldn’t manage.
Here, we need a moment of actual honesty, though. If TLC featured a show on the spiritually obese and those morbidly ill in their souls, would we be featured?
Cue the chorus of “Of course not! We’re fine.”
We go to church (most weeks); we read our Bible (usually in church); we pray (occasionally); we read that super popular, Christian-y book on spiritual stuff (what was it about again?). We’re healthier than some other people whom we could readily name. I mean, look at their issues.
We start to have some heart troubles.
Why doesn’t God answer our prayers? Church feels so lifeless; maybe we should find a different place to go on Sundays. We’re so burned out on life. Why does God feel absent? What’s wrong?
“A ‘successful’ life has become a violent enterprise,” Wayne Muller wrote in his meditations on the busyness of modern life and the destitution of many people’s spiritual lives. “We make war on our own bodies, pushing them beyond their limits…. How have we allowed this to happen? This was not our intention, this is not the world we dreamed when we were young and our whole life was full of possibility and promise. How did we get so terribly lost in a world saturated with striving and grasping, yet somehow bereft of joy and delight?”
Describe the last time you felt an overwhelming sense of peace. When did you last palpably feel the presence of God?
If you’re anything like the average American, the answer to both of those questions is probably quite a while ago. Don’t worry, though. The solution is surprisingly simple, as Henri Nouwen has pointed out. “Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life…. We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside some time to be with God and listen to him.”
Well, that’s not happening. Do you realize how busy I am? This Henri man was clearly not a mother or a businessman or a struggling graduate student. I have no time left in the day, and I’m doing everything I can just to keep my life under control.
The Hunt for Spiritual Health
Our heart won’t stop troubling us, though. Life just doesn’t have its old savor, and we’re tired all the time. The rat-race goes on, but we find verses like “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world” (Psalm 46:10 NLT).
Or, as The Passion Translation puts it, “Surrender your anxiety! Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God.”
Fine. If God’s commanding this, it must be for a reason.
Frank Powell explained that our modern life of hustle and hurry has some serious consequences for our spiritual lives. “Through temptation, Satan tries to decrease the time between impulse and action. And, in our instant gratification culture, Satan has masterfully deceived people. So many of my mistakes—sex before marriage, stealing, drunkenness, porn addiction—are the result of looking for instant gratification.
“When you nurture patience and learn to wait, you trust God to give you the things in time that Satan says you need now.”
Busyness and hurry becomes our way to sidestep relationship conflict, smother uncomfortable emotions and ‘control’ our lives. The cost is a gradual deafening of God’s voice in our lives.
Some of us may have still managed to avoid any really serious bad choices as the result of not hearing God and then rushing ahead because “Well, I guess he doesn’t care, so it’s up to me to choose.” Does a lack of notable collateral damage mean that we’re okay?
That’s a bit like assuming that you don’t need to worry about being overweight because you’ve never suffered an aneurism or a heart attack.
God’s answer to our poor spiritual health is rarely a quick fix, either. Church planter and evangelist Payton Jones pointed out that “God is deliberate and measured in the development of his disciples. If he spent three years preparing the twelve….If he allowed Paul nearly twelve years from the road to Damascus experience to his first missionary journey, he will spend time developing you as well.
“That’s why Jesus told the disciples, ‘Not many days from now . . .’ Why not right then? Why not that day? Why not immediately as he was still standing in front of them? As a results-oriented society, we tend to value arriving at the destination rather than valuing the journey. Yet Jesus put great stock in the journey itself….”
Spiritual health, like its physical counterpart, can’t be rushed.
Striving to Have True Victory
In his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer expresses the answer beautifully.
“Your relationship with God is no different than any other relationship—it takes time alone together. What would happen to my marriage if Tammy [his wife] and I were never alone together? Never had time to talk in private, share our deepest, darkest secrets, our dreams, our fears? Make love? Just be, shoulder to shoulder, alone together? Obviously, our marriage would suffer, if not die eventually.
“The same is true of your relationship to God. And even to your own soul…. Could the antidote for this spiritual malaise be as ‘easy’ as silence and solitude?
“If our theory is right and the problem is more our absence than his, more about our distraction than his disconnection, then the solution is fairly simple: create an environment for attention and connection to God…”
Creating space for silence and time with God will require sacrificing other events, amusements and time to ourselves. It’s worth doing, though.
The health of our faith with affect every single other area of our lives.
“To live a better life may sound selfish at first like pop-psychology or the self-help movement. But it’s much more than that,” Gary Wilkerson points out in his 86 Seconds devotionals; “The better life is the life Jesus has for you, the abundant life that comes from the power of living a gospel-filled life. We are built for something bigger than ourselves.
“Out of this better life comes the ability to make a better world.”
When we slow down, turn our eyes toward God and soak in his presence, that presence transforms the way we deal with our spouse, our kids, coworkers, cashiers or the person who just cut us off on the freeway.
Life is a marathon. We won’t make it under our own power. Only God’s power will allow us to see true victory.