Thursday, October 1, 2009

Seeing yourself in others: a lesson in humility and sin

This entry might be a little religious – certainly more religious than the other posts I’ve written and probably more religious than I feel these days. However, growing up in a strongly Christian tradition and having been an active and growing Christian in the past (and perhaps in the future, though I feel a bit disgusted with the whole thing now) it forms a large part of who I have been and am. Without further ado here it goes.

Today I flew out of an airport that’s not the one I usually fly out of, and is two hours away from me. I left work early and needed to get something to eat on the way. Now, there are several options between here and said airport, but the one I settled on was to stop at a casino on the way and eat at their buffet. You know that’s a topic ripe for a weight-loss blog entry, right?! Well, you’re correct. Though the issues you’re probably expecting were there and will be discussed, the whole experience left me with some very deep and sad yet enlightening insights about myself and my relationship with food in general that you might not be expecting out of that experience.

First of all, let’s start with the obvious things you’d expect about a recovering food-a-holic’s trip to the buffet. Just like it’s probably not a good idea for an alcoholic to swing by the bar, it’s probably not so great for a food-a-holic to visit a buffet – at least not for me at this stage of my food journey. However, at $5.99 (including drink!) I decided I’d rather do that than a stop at another restaurant. Additionally, the casino is basically halfway and is one of the better options in the town (i.e., not fast food). So there’s my justification…just for the record. What I’m learning is that I’m really only justifying this to myself and the justification really doesn’t matter: I’m ultimately responsible only to me for my food actions and indirectly, to others who care about my health and success in living a healthy life. I think I made 4 trips to the buffet. The first was a huge, healthy salad – the kind I would eat on a day to day basis and not feel badly about at all. All in all, the other trips I made were but a mere fraction of the damage I could have/would have inflicted in the past. I had potstickers, a slice of ham, mashed potatoes, a piece of cake, and some strawberries. Way more food than I needed, but not enough to make me feel disgusting afterward. Perhaps that’s progress? I don’t know but it is totally going beyond the using food for the sole purpose for fuel. If I were eating food only for fuel, I would have stopped at the salad. Actually for $5.99 for a pop, a large, delicious, healthy salad is a good deal. Throw on top of it the other food, and it’s a “great” deal. The quotes are because, yeah the price per unit food is quite low, but I am sure that this food was absolutely chocked-full of transfats, margarine, etc. which to me negates the value if the food is going to scrape your arteries to pieces. So that is the piece you were probably expecting. It’s almost too trite to blog about: fattie goes to the buffet. However, in the spirit of being accountable, there it is.

Here’s the piece you probably weren’t expecting: how I completely saw myself in the people I observed at the casino. If you ever need a visual illustration of “slave to sin”, visit a casino. I don’t know how to fully explain how I feel in words, but I will give it a huge try here. I have only been to a casino twice, and honestly I don’t remember much about the first trip. I played a couple slots, bought some cards, and that was about it. I was probably at the casino for about 30 minutes total. This trip is kind of burned into my mind though. I arrived at the casino around lunchtime (maybe 12:15?) on a Thursday. The place was hoppin’ like you would not believe! On a weekday at lunchtime!!! WHAT?! The smell of smoke is overwhelming when you walk through the door. The folks in the casino aren’t the type of people I normally run into in my day to day life. They look weathered by a combination of excessive exposure to the sun, years of smoking, and I’m inferring a life full of hard knocks. They really don’t look stellar to be honest. I struggled not to be judgmental. The saddest part for me was watching them with cigarettes or pipes hanging out of their mouths and lifeless expressions, continually punching the screens at the penny slots. They looked completely devoid of emotion or feeling, as though they had been zombied out. They absolutely formed a vivid mental image of being slaves to sin. I don’t mean to focus on the “sin” part, though it is no doubt important. Let’s be frank for a moment here: sin is sin, and gluttony is as much a sin as gambling is. It’s not the sin part that made such a strong impression on me; it was the image of being a slave to a sin. Letting sin control you so much that you can’t even escape out from under the weight of it. Letting something else have a stranglehold on your life. Feeling completely powerless to change something that you know could ruin your life if it goes too far.

I walked through the smoky room to the buffet, was (mercifully) seated in the non-smoking section, and grabbed my plate and went to it. I saw a bunch of morbidly obese folks with plates piled high with mac and cheese, General Tso’s chicken, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and the rest and had a strong flashback to how I used to eat. I was momentarily very proud of the progress I’ve made and how my eating habits have improved. Simultaneously, I felt very out of place. I looked very little like most of the other restaurant patrons (at least in my head I do). I dressed like very few of them and if I had to guess, I have probably been to school significantly longer than most of them. At first, I admit I was like “OMG, what a bunch of white trash” in my head. On paper I felt I had a pretty strong case for being better than them.

However when walking out of the casino, I felt a very strong conviction in my heart that was whispering “You are the same with food, and it is that despicable to look at.” Simultaneously, the phrase “slave to sin” kept running through my head. I realized that in the past I have been acting like a slave, and acting as though food controlled me. That is absolutely ridiculous and should not be the case! I should take back my power, and be enslaved to food no longer.

I also thought about the verses that say “All your righteousness is as filthy rags.” Sure, I in my head I am better than these people but actually that is so incorrect! God is as repulsed by my sin as I was initially repulsed by the folks I saw at the casino – yet he loves me and has forgiven me. My pride and disgust was immediately convicting upon this realization. So much for my filthy rags: my sins (pride, being judgmental, etc) is as bad or worse than gambling, even if it is not as obvious. I really ended up seeing a lot of myself in the people at the casino, and to be honest I really don’t like it.

I am glad I am documenting this trip so that I won’t forget it. It was really a powerful experience for me and gave me several things I really need to think about and chew on. It also was such a great reminder about how some sins are so easy for all to see (e.g., the results of gluttony are obvious and impossible to hide in many cases), but others are not as obvious but just as bad (e.g., being judgmental of others who are sinners just like I AM!). Clearly I’ve got a lot to work on: it goes much deeper than just having control by avoiding a buffet or not overdoing it on the potstickers even though they are delicious!

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