I wrote this blog entry on March 29, 2006 after God convicted me and my body warned me regarding a particular addiction I have and many pastors have as well. While I have not progressed as well as I would like, reading this 2 1/2 years later helps me to see that work still needs to be done. I’d appreciate your prayers in the matter.
I praise God that He gives us the strength to overcome addictions — and he has put me on a path to overcome mine, but I have a long, long way to go. It is really an addiction that began in college and continued on through seminary — right into married life where it all came to bloom. All night study sessions getting ready for the test the next morning. Being locked up in the library. Then getting married and leading an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Then on top of all that, I have been in the ministry going on 15 years, which allows for an increasingly sedentary lifestyle — on top of that, I’m am in Baptist ministry, which seems to feed my particular addiction more and more because it is just part of our culture.
My particular addiction that God is helping me to overcome is that of food.
A little history. I graduated from high school weighing a whopping 135 pounds soaking wet. In high school, I actually dropped down to 117 (which was about 25 pounds below what I should have been) because my trust was in my girlfriend at the time rather than in Christ. She didn’t want to eat lunch, so I didn’t eat lunch. Very unhealthy from every angle. But by the time I graduated in 1989, I was 135 and stayed that weight pretty much all through college when I graduated in 1994.
During college, I was a music major at Palm Beach Atlantic College. Aside from the jokes that music majors really didn’t do much, nothing could have been further from the truth. One study noted that the three hardest fields of study in academia are law, medicine, and music. I didn’t go into music because of any of that — God called me into the ministry and at that time it was music ministry.
At that time, everything seemed to affect me negatively — though it wasn’t necessarily bad in and of itself. But in order to get through, I had to practice on my piano 1.5 to 2 hours per day, plus be involved in a number of extra classes that were required but where we obtained no credit. Plus, I had a couple of extra jobs just to get by. I was busy, busy, busy with bad sleeping habits and addicted at that point to caffeine and pizzas whose establishments delivered into the wee hours of the morning. I stayed skinny, but the pattern was set.
By the time I graduated seminary the first time and got married, I was a meatier 175. But when I graduated, I was engaged to my now wife Cindy. I had a steady job, no more ridiculous class schedules, no more late nights to study for music history and hymnology tests. No more working two jobs, plus doing my church work. I was settled with the woman God gave to me. And I was peaceful, relaxed …
… and expanding.
Bad habits would develop. Have a hard day at work? Go eat. Need to celebrate? Let’s go eat. Having a fellowship at church? GOTTA EAT! It’s almost as if gluttony is the unspoken, pardonable sin amongst us Baptists. It’s our culture. But in reality, food can be the worst addiction of all. It’s not illegal or necessarily immoral, but it numbs the pain and the hurt and any issue that can go on the in heart.
At the beginning of the year, I found myself between 40 and 50 pounds overweight (206). For those with large or even medium frames, 206 is really not bad. But the point is, I have a small frame and was 40-50 pounds overweight. And it really began to affect me. How?
(1) Walking up stairs. Walking upstairs from my office to the sanctuary is not a long walk, but I found myself winded slightly. I began to have to time and space out when I would go upstairs. If I walked upstairs and immediately had to talk to someone or preach, I would have to work and labor to catch my breath. As a pastor and preacher, that is not acceptable.
(2) Airplanes. A deacon friend and I flew to New Orleans to scope out some upcoming missions opportunities in that region. We flew a Comair flight to New Orleans. You know how you have to put your carry-on bag either in the seat underneath you or in the overhead compartment? I put mine in the seat underneath me. When we were in the air and I had to bend over to get it, I almost choked because my gut had become so big that it pushed into my diaphragm. (If you find yourself laughing at this, that’s your right. But it is a struggle and it causes more pain than just physical.)
(3) The jokes. One friend of mine who lives in another part of the state began joking to me, “You’re beginning to look like a Baptist preacher.” Others come up and pat me on the belly and make comments. And do you know what they would always do afterwards?
And it may have been funny. And for many, it certainly may not have been intended maliciously. But I now know that most folks who struggle in this area look in the mirror and begin to acquire a sort of self-loathing. And they acquire another trait which is far more harmful …
(4) I began to feel enslaved and doomed to this. Yes, I as a minister of Gospel who preaches about how we can be free from self and free in Christ, would find myself telling my wife, “You know, I really don’t think I can lose weight.” No matter what I tried, I kept gaining. And gaining.
But my wife began a program called Lose It For Life by Steven Arterburn. It’s been really good. It’s not like a lot of diet fads. Basically, it’s lots and lots and lots of water. Exercise (and they give you good tips on how to do this in the midst of a busy day), cut down on snacks, and no eating snacks after 8:00.
As of March 29, 2006, I am now 191 — I have lost 15 pounds by the grace and glory of God. My goal is 165-168. You may say, “Matt, you have 25 pounds to go!” YES! I do. But knowing that God has set me and is setting me free from my addiction to food and soft drinks now only gives me hope that I can be healthier, it’s also a time of worship that God can truly set one free from anything that enslaves.
God must be our all-in-all, but for too many of us, food is. We must preach against this as we do other sins. Stephen Arterburn noted that pastors preach against every other sin — all the while carrying 200 pounds extra weight in the pulpit. We must lay this down as well. I love food — but I love my God more and He must be my ‘comfort food’ as the Bread of Life. I will pray that you all indeed feast on Him and Him alone.