A Call for Drastic Measures {Dieting and the Unlearning of Self}

Day two. It’s only the second day of this new diet and it’s not liking me very much. The feeling is mutual.

I’m not much of a dieter, but it’s become a necessity. I have discovered why the 40’s are considered ‘middle aged’–everything gathers around the middle. Initially I thought the change in physique was from a job that involved too much sitting, so I quit the job. {That’s not the reason…but it fits well in this telling of the story.} Yet the weight didn’t quit me.

There are things in life that stick to us no matter how much we desire to be rid of them, like cellulite, bad habits, wrong thinking. Paradoxically, the things we want to stick are often slippery and hard to maintain, like toned muscles, discipline, and virtue. The latter needs careful attention or you wake up one day and remember them like old friends you haven’t seen in a long time.

I don’t normally  write about weight, and diets, and body image. It’s not my gig. For the most part, weight is arbitrary. Diets are usually gimmicky and I’m opposed to gimmicks. Body image…well, that’s a complicated one…maybe some other time we can talk about that. I also confess, it’s humiliating to write about this. Women and their weight, we seem to be forever locked in a complicated relationship.

However, image-bearing is something I’m always pursuing. Over the years as I’ve sought to be a student of all that image-bearing means and requires. It is an incredibly humbling and exhilarating truth: The Holy One has placed His image in us. In Christ, that image is being renewed to cause us to look like Jesus (Romans 8:29).  I’ve also come to understand that it is something requiring incredible dedication. You have to stay attentive to image-bearing. As our physical bodies are susceptible to the effects of gravity, so too are our spiritual lives. Left unattended, image-bearing sinks to lesser ways, the easier ways.

Then you wake up one day and you realize–for whatever lame excuse or moderately legitimate reasons–that you’ve lost your shape. You find you’re missing the definition of Christ in your thoughts, attitudes and habits; His beauty is covered by added pounds of spiritual laziness.

With my weight, I’ve wrongly assumed that if I made some little changes,  my body would return to its better self.  Yet little changes rarely produce the big results we desire. Something drastic, disruptive has to happen. I’m cutting out the bad-for-me foods {So long sugar!} and adding in more of the good-for-me foods {Almonds, broccoli, and apples aren’t so bad}. And yes, exercising. Even though it’s only Day Two, it feels radical; extreme.

A diet is a time of unlearning. A time of unlearning thoughtless eating, careless habits, and unintentional living. It’s a time for carefulness.

It’s a time to unlearn the easy way.

Day Two is not an easy day, but it offers more hope and future than any easy days ever did.

I’ve found this principle to be true with my spiritual life too. Image-bearing is attentive to when the world and our selfish desires have made us unshapely. It’s quick to notice when our shape isn’t properly fitting its clothing (Gal. 3:27Col. 3:12-13; I Pet. 5:5). Image-bearing requires unlearning the easy me, to be the better me–the one reflecting Christ’s image of love and grace.

It’s far too easy to replace the hard labor of image-bearing with empty calories–You know, the casual interest in others, a resistance to self-control, a commitment to sloppy thoughts and speech. Image bearing calls us to unlearn these fleshly ways (I Cor. 9:24-27).

How do we do this?  We take big steps in the direction of Christ. We need to be full of care for our shape: Exercising off the fat of self-centeredness. Eating intentionally from His table of grace. We must unlearn ourself–replacing natural habits with the ways of Jesus, not by sheer will and muscle, but because you find Him beautiful and worthy of emulation.

We have a pool in our backyard and thanks to Olympic inspiration, I have been watching little ones perform the most creative expressions of their Olympic dreams. They have watched the divers, found them fascinating, and are obsessed with figuring out how to look like them. I don’t hear any complaining about how hard it is to perform some of those dives. Instead, they are all smiles. They are captivated by the desire to be someone they are not yet.

If only we could apply the same obsession to our image-bearing. Not just for one day, but every day. With vigilance. And unrelenting commitment. And untiring devotion to the One who is the image of our preferred future.

Have you looked in a spiritual mirror lately? What did you see? What does it require of you?  Have you assessed your image quotient?  Assess and take big steps toward Christ. He is beautiful. Are others finding Him beautiful in you?

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