I saw a Facebook meme the other day that showed in the top half of the picture someone doing drugs and the bottom half of the picture two extremely obese women eating a pizza the size of a table and drinking straight from liter bottles of soda. The picture’s caption said, “Substance abuse comes in many forms.” That picture bothered me because I know I have a problem with overeating. And I know I need help.

I’ve done Weight Watchers and lost 50 pounds. Gained it back. Did Nutrisystem and lost 50 pounds. Gained it back–and then some. In the past year I’ve been using an app called “Lose It!” to track everything I eat. I started doing some high intensity interval training. And still my weight won’t budge.weight

In the small town of Port Angeles, Washington, where I used to live the local hospital regularly offers a six to eight week course called the Diabetes Prevention Program. It involves teaching you the habits, exercise, and nutritional goals you need to develop to take care of your body. I heard about it while I was visiting family in the hospital there.

Upon my return to St. Louis I looked for a similar program here. I thought surely a city this size with all of its medical facilities would offer something akin to the Port Angeles program. Nope. I asked my primary care physician if she knew of anything. Nope. I saw many listings for smoking cessation programs. Drug rehab is available. But nothing for weight management. I couldn’t believe it. My doctor and my OB/GYN just tell me every time I come to see them, “You need to lose that weight.” And I say, “I’m trying, but I need help.” And they say, “Control your portion sizes and get more exercise.” Easy, right?

Why are there programs helping people to quit smoking if that’s the logic? Quitting smoking is easy. Just don’t smoke. (I know there’s really more to it than that.) But you can’t just quit eating. I would even consider weight-loss surgery, but my health insurance doesn’t cover it. I can’t afford it otherwise.

I know I could return to Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, or TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly). I have done them all. But I just keep rebounding after each program, eventually gaining more weight back than I lost.

What brings this all up for me again is that I have an appointment tomorrow with my OB/GYN. When I saw her six months ago, she admonished me that I need to lose the weight. My pre-diabetes could become Type II diabetes. For the past six months I’ve tried and tried and failed and failed. I am embarrassed and ashamed. But I can’t do this without some tangible help–that I can afford.

I know that many people in America are in my same situation. Health insurance, if you are fortunate to have it at all, does not pay for many of the preventive services that could stave off the conditions caused by excess weight. Advertisements in health magazines tout wellness retreats where you can go for a month and learn cooking techniques and develop exercise routines to get you on track. The price for those retreats is something I will never be able to afford.

Other countries offer programs like that as part and parcel of their health insurance. Germans can go yearly on a spa retreat for restorative therapies–not only good nutrition and exercise but also massage, acupuncture, etc. They return to their workaday lives rested, relaxed, and having reinforced healthy habits. The US wouldn’t sanction paying for people to relax and get healthy. We wait until people have chronic conditions and pay the (higher) cost to treat them with pharmaceuticals and surgeries.

I’m frustrated and sad about all this, but I will continue trying. I’ll track my foods, do my exercises, and walk. And continue to hope that somehow, some way, my lone efforts will begin to tip the scales in my favor. With our politicians unable even to repair Obamacare I hold out little hope for preventive therapies and programs to become a part of our health care paradigm. I’ve got to do this on my own.


Sin by another name

What if we looked at the word “sin” in another light? For many people, especially those who grew up in conservative Christian traditions, the word “sin” is fraught with crushing connotations. Many were taught that God sees them as lowly, sinful creatures. Throughout each day of their lives, they are committing acts that will damn them to hell. Only through Christ, they are taught, can they be redeemed.

Everyone surely is prone to make mistakes and to do wrong things, and for some, it is quite intentional. Many of us, however, make a lot of our errors because of our egos. We don’t intend to do harm, but because we are trying to protect what makes us feel safe, special, and unique, we do hurtful things. So, I want to conduct a little thought experiment. What if we looked at some Bible passages and substituted the word “ego” for “sin”?

Of course, I’m not saying that I have any authority whatsoever to change the words of the Bible! I think however that this little mental exercise might be helpful in examining a different perspective on “sin.” Everyone has an ego, and some live more according to its desires than others. When we think of someone who has a big ego, we see a person who is self-centered, selfish, easily angered, and who craves control over others.

In this thought experiment, we will also use some phrases from the Bible akin to the word “sin” such as “living according to the flesh,” “bondage to decay,” and a “spirit of slavery.” If you will indulge me by taking those phrases to mean that one is living a life led by one’s ego rather than by God’s Spirit, let’s take a look at a passage from Romans 8. In verse 13 Paul wrote, “…if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live.” Now read the passage replacing “the flesh” with “your ego.”

…if you live according to your ego, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the ego, you will live.

In other words, if you live your life always looking out for yourself, you are leading a life steeped in negativity and harm to others. If you live instead out of a sense of concern for others without a need to defend your territory, your specialness, even your reputation, you are really living. You are living the Spirit-led life.Seeking_human_kindness

When you think about how Jesus lived, he had no concern for protecting his ego. It did not matter to him one whit what others thought about him. The disdain of the Pharisees, the scorn of the Romans, the unbelief of the crowds never made him less caring, compassionate, and loving. He was secure in God’s love and did not need the people’s adulation. He was centered in God; no insult could harm him. Jesus came, in part, to demonstrate to us that we too could live that same way—no longer concerned with the “things of this world”—ego, fame, reputation—but with the things of God.

Indeed, Paul went on to say in verse 15, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” Try reading that verse as follows:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to the ego, to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.

You, as also with Jesus, have become a son or daughter of God. Therefore, you don’t need to live a life afraid of what other people think. You belong to God! What could be better than that? No earthly accolade can surpass God’s adoption of you as God’s child. You can go forth and live abundantly in the same ways that Jesus did. If humans, through Christ, are adopted now as children of God and are no longer in bondage to sin—their lower natures, their egos—then we are to work to the glory of God and not for the salvation of our egos. Working for God’s glory entails, by God’s very nature, creating, redeeming, making whole. And Paul says that when humans are working and creating in imitation of God’s creative power, then creation itself will rejoice because it too is set free from the selfish, destructive acts of the human ego: Verse 21, “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

Creation itself will be set free from the selfishness of human ego and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Ego seeks its preservation at the expense of others; people infused with the Spirit of God seek wholeness for all. This dichotomy—ego vs. Spirit of God—becomes a good evaluative tool for testing our own motivations and for seeing behind others’ motives. You can ask yourself, “Is the action I’m taking meant to ensure the protection of my ego, or is it truly meant for the well-being of all?”

For example, is every instance of our moral outrage really about God’s will? Or is it about protecting our status, tribe, political party, or wealth? Darrell Lackey in a blog post called “Christian: You are upset about the wrong things” wrote:

If you become upset when hearing that gay marriage is legal or that a transgender person may use the same public restroom as you, but you are less upset regarding the hate, violence, and discrimination directed toward such people, often leading to suicide: You are upset about the wrong things.

You are protecting your sense of self without regard for the well-being of the whole. In another example, Lackey wrote:

If you become upset when the government tries to pass reasonable gun restriction laws, but you are less upset with the amount of accidental firearm-related deaths among children and the general level of gun violence in America: You are upset about the wrong things.

What you are upset about is the thought that someone might take your right to own a gun away. Your ego-protection is outraged at that thought. How dare they? This anger makes you unable to work to mitigate gun violence and death in any way because of your fear of losing out on something for yourself.

I could add that if you become upset when NFL football players kneel during the national anthem, but you are less upset about the injustices African Americans face every day of their lives: You are upset about the wrong things. If you become upset about the removal of Confederate statues, but you are less upset by the generations of harm done to enslaved Americans: You are upset about the wrong things. Is protecting these symbols more important than the harm that was and is being done? Is the protection of your ego (and the idols of it) more important than alleviating suffering?

When sin is looked at in terms of ego, it gives us a new way to engage with our issues. We can stop and wonder whether we want something for ourselves or for others. Are we protecting our turf? If so, why? Am I protecting, with righteous indignation, something benefiting me while turning a blind eye to the suffering it causes others? Is my ego causing me to sin? You know what Jesus would say about that.