Guess what? I’m fat. About seven permanent pounds for each kid. I usually manage to lose some between pregnancies, but after baby #8 was born, I just kept gaining.
My husband thinks I’m beautiful, but I don’t. I hate wearing special sizes with labels like “Curvy Coordinates!” “Luscious Lady Plus!” “Gee, Your Ass Looks Enormous!” Being fat feels bad, but knowing I’m still gaining feels horrible. The real misery is in feeling like I had no control.
Many and many a time I’ve tried to just snap out of my face-stuffing ways, and go back to the habits that have worked in the past: counting calories, swearing off sugar, working out four times a week, etc. These things always worked before. But this time, I couldn’t even stick to them for a day. I knew I was in trouble, I knew I was making myself unhappy, I knew what I wanted, and I knew it was achievable. But for some reason, I failed and failed and failed like there wasn’t any such thing as not failing.
(Actually, I know the reason. It was so I would learn sympathy with other people who struggle. Okay, Lord, I get it! Now lay off. And stay with me, reader: I’m not just sobbing in public — there is a point to this post.)
Anyway, last week I decided to try something new: I wasn’t going to have a goal. I was just going to make the teeniest, tiniest improvement I could manage, the slightest motion away from my emotional squalor, and try and do that for one day. I was just going to try and get control for one stinking day.
Step one was just to take notice every time I ate something. Just: “Yep, I just put that piece of ham in my mouth. That was me doing that. Idiot.”
Step two was to admit that I was eating partially (sigh) to punish myself for being fat and weak. (Yeah, that makes sense.)
Step three (a big one) was to realize that God doesn’t want me to treat anyone that way. Mothers are so used to dealing out justice and compassion and punishment and rewards, we sometimes forget that we are somebody’s child, too. I wouldn’t consciously treat someone I love with contempt and injustice. I don’t love myself, but I know God does, so I’ll work with that.
Step four was to only eat things that I actually want to eat, either because I’m hungry or because I think they’d taste good — and to try to enjoy them, because they taste good.
Step five was to decide, at least sometimes, only to eat something good if I’m also hungry.
And step six is to decide not to eat things even if I’m hungry, because I’m trying to lose weight, and I want that more than I want to feel full. That’s the step I’m on right now. Eventually, I’ll work my way up to a weight loss goal, and regular exercise, and meal plans — all the things that have worked before. It’s humiliating to go so easy on myself. It’s distressing to realize I need such gentle treatment. But none of the drastic steps were helping, so what else can I do?
And why am I bringing this up? Because, in all the comments that people have made in response to the Pope’s remarks about condoms, one phrase stuck in my head: conversion is incremental. That’s how it is, whether it’s for me getting back into normal-sized pants, or for more dire lessons of the soul. For the hypothetical male prostitute, the goal would be to renounce fornication and seek healing for his disordered sexual appetites. But can he do that in a day? Of course not. You can’t just strip away every aspect of your old life in a single motion, and expect to live that way from now on.
But he does need a new life. So how can he do it? With tiny, pathetic steps in the right direction — by, for instance, at least desiring to protect his sexual partner from disease. It’s not enough. But it’s a small step that probably can’t be skipped.
Sometimes we get knocked off our horses, or experience a miraculous infusion of knowledge of the faith, or the angel has to come and break our bones for us. Okay, then we’re converted. But for most of us, we don’t go from sin to virtue, just like that. It takes lots of time. Some decent folks are outraged by what seems like mediocrity and dawdling: All or nothing! they holler. If a sinner isn’t willing to renounce his sin, then nothing of value is going on! True conversion of the heart is a radical thing! No man can serve two masters! The Lord will vomit the lukewarm out of his mouth! And so on.
But we’re not talking about being lukewarm here. We’re not talking about being satisfied with halfway measures. But we’re acknowledging that — well, at some point, you do have to be halfway. That’s how you get places: you have to spend some time in between before you arrive. Not to say that there is no truth in a fiery conversion. It’s just that, unless you’re on your deathbed, the fire is not sustainable. It’s not even desirable, because stewing in your own weakness teaches you compassion.
As long as we’re talking about food: you know how you get a nice, juicy roast? First you sear it on the outside. High temps for a short time seals the juices in. But then you turn the temperature way, way down and let it stew for the rest of the day. That’s how God makes us so tender and delicious by the Second Coming: first He applies the heat, and then He turns it down and lets us stew.
Let’s be patient with ourselves, and with each other, and try not to lift the lid too often. We’re not done yet.