Dropping Pounds

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:24-25

Terrell has always preferred to make up his own weight loss diets over the years, such as the “island diet” where he’d only eat things he could find on an island and had to listen to Bob Marley and such to really enjoy the full experience. Of course, the island quickly got commercialized and fast food restaurants began popping up. Then he went on the “Speedo Diet” with friends where whoever didn’t achieve the targeted weight loss would have to wear a Speedo, chosen maliciously by the other guys, the whole weekend of a beach trip we were going to take. Terrell definitely lost the weight for that one. But after giving mouth to mouth to a stranger, a runner about his age with children about our children’s ages, on a trail by the Chattahoochee, the seriousness of his health really sank in. The other guy, who had apparently been very fit in earlier days, died that afternoon. Terrell began to realize that the extra pounds that had been comfortable were in danger of stealing more life than they were actually giving him.

When he lost the weight, which he has mostly kept off since then, he commented over and over again about how much more energy he had, how much tastier healthier food actually was, how much easier and more enjoyable his running was and in general how noticeably better he felt. The whole thing really surprised him because, he admitted, before this encounter with death, he had never really considered himself overweight, no matter what our doctor said. What’s a few extra pounds – or 25?

Elizabeth Turnage quoted Kevin DeYoung’s book, The Good News We Almost Forgot, in reference to question one of the Heidelberg Catechism, and it was just so so good I had to include it here:

“What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1

“That I am not my own, but I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” (First part of Heidelberg Answer #1)

“Heidelberg’s first question is so striking because of the word ‘only.’ If it asked ‘what comforts’ you, that would be a polite but underwhelming question. I’m comforted by sleep, chocolate chip cookies, a good book, the soundtrack to The Mission. But when the Catechism asks what is your only comfort, it is getting at something deeper. ’Comfort’ translates the German word trost, … ‘Trost’ is related to the English word ‘trust’ and has the root meaning of ‘certainty’ or ‘protection.’ Heidelberg is asking, ‘What is your solace in life? What is your only real security?’

…[it] poses the most important question we will ever face. What enables you to endure life and face death unafraid? Is it that you read your Bible every day? That you attend church every Sunday? That you give to the poor? That you have a cushy retirement account saved up? That you haven’t committed any of the big sins of life? We live in a world where we take comfort in possessions, pride, power, and position. But the Catechism teaches us that our only comfort comes from the fact that we don’t even belong to ourselves. How countercultural and counterintuitive! We can endure suffering and disappointment in life and face death and the life to come without fear or judgment, not because of what we’ve done or what we own or who we are, but because of what we do not possess, namely, our own selves.”

What if it turns out that the body of death I carry around and need to be rescued from isn’t drug addiction, porn, adultery, tax evasion or other similarly taboo sins, but the pounds of unsatisfying comforts I collect and horde around me? We moved boxes of stored stuff from our attic at our old place to a storage unit down the road because we might need that stuff later. My children have a closet full of toys that we keep paring down and still, all they really want to play with are blankets and paper and tape…and their imaginations. How much more creativity would be ignited in an empty room than in one you can hardly walk through? How much more space for relationships if fewer gadgets to hide behind?

But it’s not just stuff, of course. The stuff is symbolic of the fact that I find safety and security in whatever comforts me – a tv clicker, “me time”, dark chocolate, an invigorating run on vacation, a really good cup of coffee, homemade ice cream, a long morning in a quiet bed, an engaging book…I don’t really know that I know that I know Jesus as my only comfort in life. And I wonder…what might it feel like to shed the excessive pounds of imitation comforts to which I so fiercely cling? Would I find more energy and courage if I never considered myself captain of my own ship to begin with, and so more willingly ran after Jesus no matter where He took me? Would the running suddenly be more enjoyable because His agenda, His presence, and His plan would actually be enough and all I need? When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Luke 18:22

There is no new law here, no righteousness in poverty or some new form of monasticism. Jesus is still the only source of my righteousness, ever. But it is a beautiful invitation to have my Gospel imagination stirred, to wonder from which “entitlements”, which by the way may be sucking more life out of me than they give, I might dream about uncurling my fingers. What if my fingers uncurled so much as to drop those things out entirely? What if my hands became empty enough to hold Someone’s hand comfortably and securely? Rather than a new law about selling my stuff or giving up bad habits to earn some extra points with Him, what if He is inviting me to see that He is my treasure in heaven, available and present now. Oh to one day be able to say with integrity (and perhaps even from experience!) that He alone is my comfort, security and treasure…well, that sounds like Good News indeed.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matt. 6:21

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