When he was 40, a serious sports injury left him immobile; his girlfriend asked him to move out, his work made him redundant. So he was left single, homeless, jobless, and immobile, and had to move back with his parents. It was his Jacob moment. He surrendered his life to Christ, invited all his siblings and friends to a ceremony at which he burnt his last cigarette, and never smoked one again.
Another was from a pastor. As a teenager, his mother who was dying of cancer, killed his father who was leaving her, six months before her own death. Grief-stricken, he slipped: heroin, cocaine, alcohol, all causing deep physical damage. In despair, he cried out to God, “If you are real, take away my desire for drugs.” Well, God did. He gave up drugs, and is a driven and passionate evangelist, out of gratitude to God who set him free.
· * * *
How I love these stories of instant dramatic change!
Mine, however, has not been like that. It has been slow, slow, slow, but, nevertheless I have changed.
I had a fiery temper, and over the last decade, have learnt to get it under control, though I still lose it some!! But there is much freedom and joy in thinking things over, thinking about the objective I want to achieve, remembering Jesus, changing addresses, so to say, moving myself away from maelstrom of anger and indignation into living in Jesus, surrounded by him.
Roy, though the sweetest and most helpful of husbands, also has a fiery temper when he’s over-tired, or over-provoked–and I used to wonder if it was escapism to retreat to a quiet place of God’s love and eternal truths, in the Psalms for instance, while his anger reverberated fearsomely. (He’s generally mild, but when he loses his temper, well…).
I decided: Nope, it wasn’t escapism. The Rock of Truth is the rock, no matter how tempestuous the ocean. God’s love is steady, despite the storm. Scripture is an axis for one’s life, even if someone has just lost their temper with you, making your internal world feel unsteady. So mentally and spiritually, in family life, you sometimes need to go into your room, lock the door, and sail away into the quiet sea of God’s love. Taste the truths which are always true.
Yeah, that battle with out-of-control anger is mostly won, I believe. I can process my anger with God rather than the person. The battle with forgiveness is not as huge as it used to be. As far as my deceitful heart knows, I walk in forgiveness, fully achieved, or in process!
* * *
So what battle do I now wage with Appolyon? Which, as in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress can only be won by the two-edged sword of the word of God and prayer.
I believed I had no addictions, after I broke my coffee addiction.
Not so. I have finally acknowledged a embarrassing, deep-rooted habit to myself, which is perhaps an addiction.
James says: Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.
Well, I sometimes have.
But my default method of dealing with uncomfortable emotions gets quick results. Sad, low-spirited, depressed—Eat chocolate. Happy and high—eat chocolate, which I unconsciously associate with happiness. Stressed, bored, empty—eat chocolate.
Chocolate works; it produces results. It contains tryptophan, which triggers the release of endorphins and serotonin, which decrease stress and depression. It contains phenylethylamine, the “chocolate amphetamine” which raises blood pressure and blood-sugar, helping one feel excited and alert. Its anandamide activates dopamine, the neurotransmitter which gives us a sense of well being. Its theobromine produces a sense of mental and physical relaxation and increased alertness.
There are other things which help me feel as high as chocolate does. I can listen to scripture while jogging or dancing. I can read beautifully written spiritual books which can make me feel hyper and excited: Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, or Frederick Buechner, or Willard’s Divine Conspiracy or Piper’s Desiring God. Playing worship music while dancing or tidying up induces a change of emotional state. As does prayer.
Or running. Or yoga or gardening.
But, you see, chocolate, or chocolate biscuits, or crisps, or comfort food—ah, that induces a change of state far more rapidly!
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25).
Ah, haste. Hurry up. Quick. Fast. Speed. Words which are death to the spiritual life. Dallas Willard writes “Haste has worry, fear, and anger as close associates; it is a deadly enemy of kindness, and hence of love.”
· * * *
So, to be honest, this is the humililating “Valley of Humiliation” in which I currently battle Appolyon–my tendency to medicate stress, boredom, sadness, low mood, reverses, life with a highly-strung family with food, especially chocolate and sweet stuff.
And so I am trying to break a habit I started in my teens. Low mood: eat. Stressed: Eat. Bored: Eat.
Put off, put on: That’s a consistent New Testament formula.
Put off mindless seeking for comfort in things which will cause distress later (weight gain, and being excessively hyper).
Put on: stopping work when chocolate craving overwhelms. Changing the activity. Seeking joy in God who delights the soul as with the richest of foods. Exercise with Scripture. Read a spiritual book, some good old lectio divina.
Yeah, it’s a bit embarrassing that I am waging this sort of low-level spiritual battle after being a Christian for 22 years.
But waging it, I am, and I am determined to win.
I so want to change, and taste God, and the pleasures of God when I am low-spirited, bored, stressed or depressed instead of the quick, easy, deceitful pleasures of chocolate.