Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Feeding the ministry

Clink. The fork comes to rest on my plate, and I hear whole grains grinding between my teeth. Dark brussels sprouts nestle beside rice and vegetable curry. It doesn’t look much like the cheesy mashed potatoes, steak, and salad slathered in dressing that I love.

A few years ago, I struggled with every obligation, ready to quit ministry. I dragged myself out of bed to feed our four kids, set them up for homeschool, and attended affairs that couldn’t be canceled. The children cleaned up after meals and had weekly chores so the house looked fine. They had good manners, did well in school, and were learning to run a household.

Inside, I was dying. My family felt like a burden. I couldn’t stand going to church. Weddings and other “happy” events were agony. The minute we could politely leave, I would catch my husband’s attention and bolt for home. Then in one month, I gained five pounds, on top of the ten of the previous year… while constantly ravenous. I wondered if my depression was related to food. It seemed absurd.

Compared to three previous winters spent mostly in bed, eight weeks seemed a reasonable trial period for a food experiment. I cut salt, sugar, and everything animal. Meat, cheese, milk, honey, eggs. Gone. “What are you eating?” friends wondered in dismay. Grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, soybean and grain meat substitutes… it was surprising how many choices I had.

Within a week, my weight began to shed. My appetite stabilized. And amazingly, I began to wake from depression. My energy returned, a smile lit my eyes and face, and I was out of bed more than in it. After eight weeks, I was at my college weight, alert, and whole-heartedly back in ministry and life. I was suddenly a vegan, but for health rather than religious reasons.

Of course, I miss meat and dairy. So I sometimes experiment to see if it is “all in my head” or temporary. “She’s not making this up!” my husband tells people who think I’m an attention-seeker. “I can see the light go out of her eyes within ten minutes.” Not to mention the immediate relapse to dark anger, hostility towards others, and withdrawal.

What have I learned?
1. Treat constraints as spiritual disciplines. Restrictions (time, family, health, energy, finances, or even food) can be offered back to God as a sacrifice of worship. To serve God at home and church, I eat vegan because my body requires it. www.drmcdougall.com

2. Thank God for what we have instead of focusing on what we lack. Rather than complaining about a restricted diet, I can appreciate the beautiful colors of food, the rich textures and tastes, and God’s generosity in a land of abundance.

3. Build in safe “cheats” for when the discipline becomes overwhelming. Maybe you’ll plan a mini-vacation from the kids or set aside a few dollars for a trip to Value Village or Half Price Books. I eat ‘everything’ at Christmas when I can crash during time off.

4. Be sensitive to others who need our experience and encouragement. A formerly bubbly pastor’s daughter, planning for missions in India, recently cried in my office. She exactly described my symptoms, the faking of emotional health, that she could barely get up in the morning, and how she hated to be around people. Now she’s coming back to life… as a vegan. Who knew! Except for our wonderful God, who loves and knows us completely.

5. No one is immune to challenges. “Your cross is shaped for your back,” my mom once told me. “Don’t wish for another’s.” Let us lead by example, as we carry our own cross willingly in the power and victory of Christ.

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