The Frustrating War Within

May 3, 2017

Every six months, I go through the medical surveillance that tracks the signs of health and/or disease in my body. Last Wednesday, I underwent the CT scan, and six hours later my oncologist called to tell me, “It looks great! No changes! All is well.” When all my testing is done next week, I fully expect the all-clear and won’t have to think about cancer for six months, heart disease for maybe five years, skin cancer for a year, colon cancer for five years, female cancers for two years, yada, yada . . .

But there is one dumb thing that plagues me and probably will until I die. On Ash Wednesday, February 9, 2016, I began a serious recalibration of my food intake to address my significant weight-gain during cancer treatment, plus the extra twenty pounds of “too much Mary” already present before that. It has been one year, two months, and twenty-three days of logging my meals, mixing protein shakes, chopping vegetables, carefully navigating through parties and holidays, and otherwise changing habits. I have lost about 38 pounds, and have four (or six) to go. I feel terrific and have experienced many health benefits along the way. I can even say I love the way my body has turned out! Please note that last sentence, because I don’t want you to get the impression that I hate my body or have a body/spirit duality thing going on here (that’s a theological position that says anything of the body is “evil” and everything of the spirit is “good”). But after all of this success, I am still frustrated—on a plateau since Christmas—about that last four to six pounds that keeps my body-fat-percentage above 25%.

I just got home from the weight-loss doctor visit, and am working out my frustration here. The other reason I am sharing this with you is that weight loss offers one of the best illustrations of the struggle most Christian face against residual sin. Those who have embraced Christ and received his forgiveness have, Scripture tells us, been made alive in Christ, are new creatures, and possess eternal life. The Holy Spirit has moved into our hearts to work out God’s purposes from within. The Christian life is a journey toward Christ-likeness, and discipleship helps us practice the new habits consistent with belonging to Christ’s household of faith. For some of us, the transformation is dramatic; for others more subtle. But in Christ, we are new creatures.

We have eternal life now, but we are still residing in this body, which—if I may stretch theology a bit—has a mind of its own. There are things that happen in our bodies that we did not cause: I think of my friend with diabetes who can have a perfect diet/insulin day and still crash in the middle of the night. I think of another friend who has ups and downs of blood pressure that are not correlated to stress in her life. How about the person, like me, with no risk factors present (family history, smoking, exposure to pollution) who gets lung cancer? No, really, our bodies represent great mystery sometimes, and no matter what we do, things still happen.

I cannot answer the question on the physical level, but what this struggle illustrates in the spiritual realm is important. Until we prevail over the Last Enemy (physical death), we are going to struggle with sin. The Apostle Paul gives us two insights, first by venting his frustration in Romans 7:

14For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul is saying that there are forces at work within our mortal bodies, minds, and souls that oppose the good that God wants to do in us. We need the redemption offered in Jesus Christ! Our daily struggle reminds us of our complete dependence upon the grace of God.

Paul’s second insight helps us rest in God’s help:

7 . . . a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

I would be so happy if God would help me lose these last stubborn pounds, but at least I see the potential for blessing and spiritual fruit-bearing in the heat of the struggle. That stupid scale reminds me that I must remain vigilant against temptation. I must push back the human propensity to deceive myself. Who knows? If I reached my goal weight tomorrow, I might say, “Whee-e-e, now I can eat whatever I want again!” But that most certainly is not true. There will still be great need for discipline, healthful choices, and denial of self. Denial of self and life unto God are simultaneous dynamics that get to the heart of what it means to be a child of God.

So I accept the struggle and resign myself to my weakness, not by “sinning” but by renewed resolve to work with God’s purposes for me that include healthy discipline. God must be strong in me. This will be God’s work in his strength, and may my submission to God’s will be empowered by the Holy Spirit!

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4 Responses to “The Frustrating War Within”

  1. Nancy Krause Says:

    Mary, Thank you for healthy discipline reading. I had back surgery in early 2011 and gained 6 lbs. in the hospital. I never ate a thing, but they kept pumping sugar water into my body! I gained a couple more lbs. afterward and have been wanting to lose at least the six lbs. ever since, but I am not as careful about what I eat, and I LOVE sugar! Your post was a great reminder of the large and small struggles we ALL face as we walk the walk a day at a time, trusting in God’s gracious plan for our lives. Encouragement and abundant love to you,
    Nancy K.

    • revmary Says:

      Ah Nancy, thanks for sharing the struggle. It keeps us honest and dependent upon our Lord! Hugs to you and Dennis…and by the way, we are spending a few days in Prague in July! I know it is one of Dennis’ favorite cities.

  2. houstonhodges Says:

    Yes, constant vigilance; all the time Proud of you

    • revmary Says:

      So good to hear from you, Houston. Your affirmation is a balm. I’m writing about three to four hours a day now, finally in the daily discipline.

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