About 10 years ago I was at work when I began to experience debilitating pain in my side and stomach. It was so bad that I wasn't able to stand up straight and any type of movement caused more pain. My coworker, who was studying medicine, assured me that it must be a hernia. As someone who regularly proves his manliness by lifting and tossing around absurdly heavy items, I agreed with his assessment. Off to the ER I went.
After a few gentle prods and some basic questions the doctor had me go in for an x-ray to see the extent of the damage. About an hour later my doctor and nurse had wry smiles on their faces as they intently studied my x-ray images. While trying to not laugh, my doctor informed me that I did not have a hernia, I was just full of crap. Literal crap. Full of it. Blocked up in my intestines.
My mothers response was simply to say that she could have told me that without a visit to the ER.....
For a number of years I had always had stomach annoyances. But I finally had an answer to why I never felt quite right. I was all backed up and had the ambiguously defined, IBS, or, Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
It is really hard to nail down the exact causes for IBS. It is sort of like saying you have a head ache in your stomach. It is often used as a catch all that helps describe most non-diagnosable stomach maladies. But the one consistent solution and approach to addressing the problem is diet. Cut out unhealthy carbs, sugars, and add fibrous veggies and lots of water.
Over the course of the last decade I have slowly gotten better and better at maintaining a healthy diet. Since my kids have been born I have been really good at it. I follow a mostly low-carb diet and drink an inhuman amount of water every day. Also, I take an extreme fiber powder in a large bottle of water twice a day. It is a fiber powder made out of psylum husk powder....yummmmmmy.
This radical behavior change has had two significant benefits: 1) I rarely have stomach issues 2) I have lost a ton of weight...At my largest I was about 285...Today I am 190. The original goal was not to lose weight, I just wanted the pain to stop. But the weight loss has been a wonderful and significant bonus. The weight loss aspect of a "safe" diet helps in maintaining the diet.
Sin is like IBS. It causes pain, it takes away your peace, it can literally double you over as it "backs up" your spiritual body. And the process of dealing with it is very similar.
1) You have to directly address it when you find discover it.
The first thing my doctor did for me was give me a prescription for a mega-strength laxative. When I asked him if I would notice it was working he laughed and said, "There will be NO question about it". He was right. And I felt a thousand times better. I could stand up straight, I could lift things, I no longer had the sense of constant cramping.
The first step with dealing with sin is confession. Like a prescription laxative you gotta get that stuff out. As long as it is just festering inside of you it will affect everything you try to do. It is a handicap that can bring you to your knees. And, like the laxative, confession is just the beginning. A non-negotiable first step, but not the permanent solution.
2) You have to change your "diet"
How I used to eat didn't cause me to have IBS, but it played right into the inborn problems that already existed within me. If I didn't want to end up in the hospital again being laughed at as a doctor looked at my x-ray, I had to radically overhaul my diet. Out goes the junk, and in comes the fresh veggies and lean meats.
The theological term for this ongoing life change is Sanctification. It means the ongoing lifestyle change that leads to becoming more and more Christ like. And sanctification doesn't just mean adding a bit of good to the bad, it means eliminating the bad and adding the good. I am sure it would have been somewhat helpful to do nothing more than adding broccoli to my diet. But as long as I insisted on eating all the other bad stuff, the broccoli would always be on the losing side of the bowel battle.
Often we don't want to actually eliminate sinful behavior. We just try to add some extra religion to the diet. It's like having a salad with your triple thick extra large milkshake. Not going to do too much positive for you. Ironically, we then get frustrated and say, "This just isn't working!!" And quit eating salads all together, because, seriously, what's the point if it isn't helping!?!?
Your spiritual life is not going to change because you sprinkled in some Jesus. The diet needs to change. Maybe you even try to go 50-50, but in the end, unhealthy always wins. Sin is an addiction. To self, to pride, to rebellion, to destructive behaviors. Could you imagine a meth addict trying to beat their addiction by drinking more water and going for a jog....right after smoking meth??? That is what we do spiritually. And it NEVER works.
3) You have to regularly "purge"
I don't drink heavy duty fiber every day because it is so scrumptious. Drinking fiber keeps me ahead of the game. It doesn't let things slowly build up in my stomach. I am not perfect at only eating that which is good. Keeping a healthy dose of fiber in my routine helps me stay on a healthy path.
Confession is not a one time thing. It needs to be the first-step, but the ongoing work of sanctification requires regular confession. You have to keep cleaning house so that your healthy diet does what it is going to do. When we believe the lie that we already "dealt" with all of that "back then" we are allowing sin to creep its way right back in.
Purging/confessing has an added benefit. It staves off relapses. Sin IS addiction. Eating unhealthy IS an addiction. Fiber helps clear out my system so it doesn't set off triggers that make me want to eat a whole sleeve of girl scout cookies. Confession keeps me from falling back into old habits that control me.
When we actually begin to address our pain there is a correlated benefit. We start to "look" better. I changed my diet and drink fiber because I was in pain. Losing weight is an amazing benefit. But it wasn't the goal. And, when I really got serious about losing weight as well, the bowel problems basically became non-existent.
Dealing with sin directly begins the process of healing. And it changes more than just your pain. It changes you. But it takes commitment. Every time I indulge in something "bad" for me, I can feel my problems coming back. Now, though, I know what to do. I hop right back on top of that wagon and get on track. I have been sick, and I have been well. I will choose being well every single time.
How is your spiritual life? Are you in pain, doubled over, feeling like you are full of crap? Confess, change your behavior, and, keep confessing. It can be difficult to adjust to at first, but one day you will look back and ask yourself, "What took me so long?!?!"
2 Steps forward, 2 Steps back