On Pain and Divine Love

I knew when I started this journey of nourishing me, especially the part about changing how I would view food, that it would be hard. It isn’t hard to buy the vegetables or prepare them in healthy ways. It is challenging to make the time and conserve my energy levels to do the extra work. But making the food obey has never been the problem in my dieting life.

The problem is my relationship with food. I knew that breaking up was not going to be easy. Because I have done this over and over and over again in my lifetime. The beginning of a diet can be energizing. Like a new relationship, you are full of hope and expectation. It’s fun to try new things and seeing the scale go down is so exciting. But after a month or so, the excitement fades and reality sets in. This is when the hard work starts. I am determined that this time I will persevere but that means I have to be honest about something. I have to admit that food and I have an unhealthy relationship. I have to admit that for most of my life I have used food for pleasure not fuel.

I read a book recently that inspired me on this journey, The Book of Waking Up: Experiencing the Divine Love that Reorders Life by Seth Haines (Amazon link here). I was drawn to the book because of my recent reading of Rich Mullins and Brennan Manning. I wanted to figure out how to live a life more fully aware of God’s divine love. So I had no idea that it was a book about addictions. It ended up being a serendipitous find. The book inspired me as I discovered the shape of my pain and my choice of “whizz-bang,” food.

After the first month of using food for nourishment alone, I had begun to experience pain. It wasn’t gas pains from all of vegetables I was eating. Or even hunger pains from not overeating. It was the emotional pain that I could no longer mask with a big bag of chips or an order of Arby’s chicken fingers. Haines refers to the things that we use to get pleasure as “whizz-bangs.” I like that word. I hurt and I couldn’t make it go away. It was enough to call it quits. At least for 40 years of my life, it was enough to quit but also it was enough to keep me from even starting.

What caught my attention the most in the book was Haines’ description of pain. Pain is inevitable. I think we can all agree on this. We are going to feel pain, physical pain and emotional pain. But how are we going to respond to that pain?

Isn’t emotional pain a gift, too? Isn’t it a sign that we need treatment? Isn’t it a signaler, an opportunity to invite the great God of healing and comfort to be with us?

Seth Haines, “The Book of Waking Up: Experiencing the Divine Love that Reorders Life

I was raised to avoid pain. Aren’t we all? Isn’t that a basic survival skill? I sure wasn’t raised to embrace it. Or remain it. Or even find God in it. Don’t we often wonder why God allows pain? Isn’t the age old complaint about God, why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? As I struggle with reordering my life, after reading this book, I realized that change won’t come in trying to avoid this pain but in sitting in it. Like Job sat in the ashes, I must sit in the pain of life without my favorite coping mechanism. And even further, if I am to find healing then I must invite God to join me in my ashes.

This is an uncomfortable place. Sometimes I long for an easier way like the Israelites in the desert, (Exodus 16:3) I would rather have fast food as a slave than the freedom of a healthy body. And asking God into my ugliness is uncomfortable. It requires quiet and reflection. I would rather trust in the busyness of life to keep the pain at bay most days. It would be easier to go back to my old way of eating. I miss the old days when it was my whizz-bang. But I know I can’t go back.

A few years back, I was on at a week long conference with friends when I was a single mom. Life at home was hard with caring for three kids, a messy divorce and financial struggles. The week away had been a blessing to me and on the day before I had to return home I sat on my bed and cried, you know ugly cried, tears, slobbers and snorts. My best friend came into my room, said nothing and just climbed up beside me on the bed. I really had no words to express the pain I was feeling and she didn’t require any of me. She just sat next to me. And it was exactly what I needed. The tears subsided and we proceeded to the final evening activities. I was restored and strengthened in that moment. I could face what was ahead of me at home.

And so now I think of that time when I invite God into my pain. It is not something to be avoided or to find a solution for but rather a sacred moment to invite Divine Love into. And in doing so I find myself waking up to a new life that is filled with God’s love. As Keith Green says, “Waking up from the longest dream, how real it seemed, until your love broke through.”

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