Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t see it yet, but you might be beholding the improved, svelte, health-conscious me, a mere celery-crunching shadow of my former self.
Recently, I became the object of an uncoordinated, serial intercession.
Within a span of a few days, my wife, Liz, my son, John, and my good friend, Gary, all separately warned me that if I didn’t change my eating and exercise habits — that is, I eat badly, exercise none — I was sure to keel over dead.
I’d heard all this before. Yep, right, I’d think. Yadda yadda yadda. I’ll worry about it while I finish off this 16-ounce steak and platter of fries and basket of honey-glazed dinner rolls, which I’ll wash down with a brick-sized hunk of cheesecake.
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But this time, for reasons I’m not sure of, those three warnings all coming together cracked the ponderous armor of my denial.
Truth is, I’m 62. I’m diabetic. I have hypertension. I’m at least 80 pounds overweight (but, hey, who’s counting?).
I realized those three people who warned me all care for me. They’d like me to stick around. They mean me only good.
And I said to myself: Yeah, as badly as I hate to admit it, they’re right. I’ve got a problem. I’m killing myself by cheeseburger.
Ever since, I’ve been contemplating the roots of and fixes for my addiction.
I believe I arrived in this world with an addictive personality.
As a pal once observed, my approach to life could be described as, “anything worth doing is worth doing to excess.”
For me, if a little bit of something is good, a whole lot is all the better.
For instance, I really, really like rich, strong coffee. Not your garden-variety, supermarket swill. The good stuff — expensive, dark, coffee-house coffee.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Everybody’s entitled to a steaming cup of fine joe if he wants it.
Except that I crave — and used to happily, deliriously drink — four or five 24-ounce cups of high-octane coffee every single morning. That’s, in rough terms, 100-plus ounces. I drank so much strong coffee it fried my esophagus. I’ve seen photos from the medical tests.
When I used to drink alcohol, I drank it the same way, only more so. I’d warm up by having a beer or three for breakfast, to prime the pump, then go from there.
When I smoked, I smoked like a Dust Bowl prairie fire. I’d light one cigarette off the stub of the previous cigarette. And although I initially kicked that habit while still in my 20s, I’ve relapsed three times, once for eight years.
When I became a Christian, I didn’t get a normal dose of the faith, where you decide to go to church periodically and maybe enroll in a small group that meets for prayer. Sons and daughters, I went full-bore, sweat-slinging, Bible-thumping, tongues-talking, demons-casting-out, street-corner-witnessing, faith-healing Holy Roller.
Yep, if a little of something is good — a whole lot is way better.
Except that usually it isn’t. Excessive anything creates excessive problems.
I know that, but can’t seem to hold onto it.
I keep finding myself relearning this same, immutable truth.
In all those other trouble areas I admitted to above, I’ve achieved — through sheer teeth-gritting will and mainly the Holy Spirit’s intercession — deliverance.
I’m down to a couple of cups of decaf a day. At most, I might sip a single beer once every three or four months. I haven’t smoked a cigarette in seven years and hope never to smoke again. I’ve modulated my faith to a nice, reasonable middle path; I even get invited out to speak to respectable Presbyterians and Episcopalians.
So this isn’t the first crossroads I’ve encountered.
For me, though, even changes for the good easily turn into disasters.
The last time I set out to conquer my eating and weight problems, more than 15 years ago, I — this will come as no surprise — became so compulsive I wrecked my health.
Before I knew it I was running 25 miles a week, bench-pressing almost 300 pounds, practicing military endurance tests and eating like a picky 7th-grade cheerleader. I lost a ton of fat.
I also pretty much disintegrated my feet, ankles, hips, back and shoulders. I ended up in such bad shape from getting in great shape that I could barely hobble around the house. I still suffer the after-effects. Because, well, you know why. It’s all or nothing.
Thus, even when I set my mind to do right, I have to proceed carefully.
I feel brittle and humbled now. I know how short-sighted I can be. I know how easily I backslide and, paradoxically, how single-minded and fanatical I can become.
Jesus said the path to paradise is narrow and few find it.
I’m once again looking for that path, in yet another domain of my life.
I’ve done OK for a couple of weeks. I’ve lost several pounds. I’m feeling more energetic. I haven’t signed up for a triathlon.
Lord, if I’ve found the narrow path help me stay there, without falling off on either side. Not too little. Not too much.
Friends, please keep me in your prayers.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.