Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need to be reminded that the race I’m running is the one that leads to Jesus Christ. It’s so easy to make decisions based on other things—what will be most fun, what will be easiest, or even what will require the least amount of sacrifice.
We tend to handle our eating decisions the same way. If our main goal in life is to have fun, then it will be hard to control our eating because limiting ourselves isn’t fun. If our main goal in life is to be skinny, then we’ll have to worry about eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia. If our goal in life is to both indulge ourselves and be skinny, then we’ll drive ourselves crazy because those aren’t compatible goals.
What we need to do, with both life and eating, is to run the right race, or should I say the right races, because I think there are two different kinds of races we run in the right race category.
First, we run the race of our relationship with God. Our goal with this race is to keep Him first in our lives. In that race we need boundaries that will keep food from becoming either a controlling force or an idol.
Those boundaries will be different for each person depending on their eating weaknesses. In my own life the boundaries of three meals and one snack a day helped, but there was a season when I also had to give up sweets because I felt they were controlling me. I talked about that in Freedom from Emotional Eating.
The second type of race I see us running is the individual trial race. If you look at Hebrews 11, those saints each had different things God had called them to—and because of the nature of their calling they had different weights they had to throw off.
Take Noah for example. He would have had to throw off the weight of worrying about what people thought of him in order to build the ark. I imagine he would have had to put up with a lot of ridicule. Moses would have had to throw off the temptation to live the fun and easy life in order to do a job he wasn’t crazy about doing—leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses had to keep his eyes on his ultimate goal, God, so he could have the purpose and strength to do the unpleasant task before him.
We too have things God wants us to do even though they may not seem very big compared to the Hebrews 11 people. We also have things that get in the way of what God has called us to do. Food may be one of those things.
To look at boundaries this way, we might ask ourselves: what is God calling us to do with our lives, and what boundaries would help us run that race well? This will be different for each one of us, and it will probably change as we walk through life.
It could be that food doesn’t even factor into your individual race. I was surprised to discover that it did factor into mine. One of the races God has called me to run is the race of writing for Him. And when I get to a sticky part of writing and don’t know what to do (which happens a lot), my first impulse is to go get something to eat, preferably something sweet. God, of course, would rather see me turn to Him whenever I have problems writing.
I had to ask myself, “Are sweets a weight in my life?” My answer was yes. So I went back to my old boundaries—even though I don’t need to lose weight, even though food doesn’t control me, and even though food isn’t an idol—I decided to go back to the boundaries I talked about in my Bible study. Sweets only on social occasions, holidays and out of town trips. Fruit based sweets anytime.
And you know what? I’m finally at a point in my life where I didn’t mind giving them up. It wasn’t really a big sacrifice. That’s kind of exciting.
Breaking free from emotional eating is a process, a messy, disorderly process. You start out consumed with food. The first sign of success is usually the ending of binges. The second sign is usually being able to stick to your boundaries. Then comes moderation within the boundaries. And I’m thinking the last stage is when you don’t really care too much about food.
That doesn’t mean you progress through the process in a smooth, orderly, failure-free way. On the contrary, the process is riddled with failure. It’s easy to get discouraged when you see yourself sliding back a step. It will be far less discouraging, though, when you remember the real race you're running. It’s not the race that leads to a number on the scale. It’s the race that leads to God. The number on the scale is just a side benefit.