I'm disgusted. I had a frustrated, worrisome day yesterday and I sank right into the comfort of munching on leftover pizza crust. I didn't even eat the good stuff (meat, cheese, and sauce). I just ate the sorry, three-day-old pizza bones that my friends left in my fridge after their adventure to Beau Jo's Pizza. (It is arguably the best pie made by human hands, but that's beside the point.)
I've been carb- and sugar-free for a few months now. I've mustered the fortitude to forego licorice, dinner rolls, hamburgers, and even chocolate. There have been many times when I just wanted to eat something fluffy, something doughy, something full of sugar—but I resisted.
So why did I choose now to turn to stale, dry pizza crusts? I was frustrated. I was tired. I had thought long and hard about a problem and hadn't come up with a solution. So I traded in my sugar/carb-busting progress for a quick fix of gluten that, in the end, made me feel even worse.
Hungry for a quick fix?
Why do I so easily turn back to things that seem like a quick fix, but really are no fix at all? For me it's the mind-numbing ease of the "grab and stuff." I snatched that pizza and crammed it in my mouth without stopping to think about what I really wanted, which was for someone to still my anxious thoughts and tell me that I was okay even if I couldn't solve every problem. I don't think God is surprised by this. He knows we'll struggle with trying the same things over and over, returning to our own ideas that don't work. Proverbs 26:11 puts it this way: "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness."
Wow. Not a favorable comparison, but oh so true in so many areas of my life. I feel discouraged or frustrated so I turn to food or television or other people in order to bring me comfort, distraction, and happiness . . . even though I know it won't work. So what's really going on?
Deeper than quick-fix prayers
I had a great conversation with a mentor and friend who knows me well. She often starts our conversations like this: "Sherry, what do you not want to talk about? Let's talk about that." She doesn't let me get away with hiding from what is uncomfortable because she knows that what's bothering me on the inside will soon show up on the outside. So she talked to me about pausing before jumping into a self-soothing solution like junk food or mindless television, and instead asking myself, What is it I really need?
I know what you're thinking: She's going to say, "Talk to God about it and it will all be better and my cravings for stuff that's not good for me will go away."
I've finally come to the realization that God is not a magic bullet we shoot in our desperation gun when we're at the end of our rope. He wants to know me. He wants to talk to me about what's really going on, including the pain and frustration in my heart that I don't want to put into words. He wants me to be real.
What he doesn't want is for me to sanitize our conversations by fitting them into prayer-patterns that make them quicker and easier. For years I felt guilty if I didn't follow the ACTS formula (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication) to structure my prayers, until one day I wondered if God ever got bored with our one-way conversations that were a lot like reciting a list.
Now I'm growing to understand that God just wants me to do what my friend Sibyl asks: Acknowledge what you don't want to talk about and let's talk about that. He doesn't promise to always just wipe it away. But he does promise to walk with me in it, to help me understand why my heart feels like it does, and to shed light on how he can help. I've learned this takes time.
Slow, still prayer
I sometimes sit on our back deck in Parker, Colorado, where our backyard faces a myriad of trees. At first it looks like just the edge of a forest, but after I watch quietly for a few minutes, a circus of frantic activity emerges. Squirrels race back and forth, scampering and chasing after who knows what. Birds fly from here to there, sometimes nipping at each other when they feel their territory has been encroached upon. I hear the faint buzz of bees doing the business only bees understand. I hear the sound of a creature pushing through some underbrush (Oh Lord, please don't let it be a snake!). Sometimes, if I'm really still and quiet, a deer will wander by. I never notice these things immediately. It always takes a few minutes of stillness. Conversely, when I'm noisy it all disappears, like a mist quickly evaporating.
It's the same with my heart.
My busy and noisy life can be a blockade to the work God wants to do in me. It keeps me moving so fast I don't think about his call to sit with him and let what is in my heart bubble up so I can acknowledge it, put words to it, and give those words to God. Sometimes it takes a few minutes of just sitting, then what begins to show itself from behind the trees surprises even me. Thoughts like . . .
When they didn't acknowledge the work I did on that project, it made me feel left out.
I didn't know she had been talking about me behind my back. What she said was really hurtful.
That lunch today made me feel like a failure. They were all talking about their accomplishments and I had nothing to say. I think I felt jealous.
I'm just now beginning to understand my personality. I tend to lean toward the do and leave behind the be. This is why sitting with God in silence and solitude is so important. It reminds me to be present, be his daughter, and just be with him. It reminds me to leave the do behind, so what needs to bubble up can do just that. It reminds me that he already sees what's hiding behind my trees and it's safe to let it come out. I don't have to clean it all up or have it figured out before I bring it to him. He sees, he knows.
Loved—quirks, struggles, and all
I can't say I have this silence and solitude time with God all figured out. I'm trying, but for an anti-sitter who isn't comfortable with nothing-ness, this is hard. I sit, I still my heart, I clear my thoughts so God can speak. And then I think about the silly story a friend told me about carrots and how she had never seen one pulled right from the ground and as a child she thought they grew in a bag. I sigh and start over.
Am I wearing God out? Is he frustrated with my seeming inability to just be with him, to just wait for him? Is he irritated that I have to work at being honest with myself and not hiding my real thoughts and feelings from him? I don't think so. His Word assures me that he doesn't quit, he doesn't give up. He constructed my quirky brain and he knows it wanders to obscure things (like vegetables and plastic bags).
God is the author of patience. If he has big things to say, he will hold them patiently until I'm still enough to hear them. Psalm 28:7 reminds me, "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me" (NIV). For now, maybe it's enough for me to still my busy thoughts and prompt my heart to trust as I sit and try not to fidget. God is helping me along the way.
So tomorrow I will begin my carb- and sugar-free eating habits again. I'm thankful for do-overs, for fresh starts. I'm even more grateful for a God that loves me and is not so much worried about what I eat, but about why I eat it. For a God who knows me and loves me. For a God who gently whispers, You're okay and I'm right here.