I have always had a sweet tooth. I love desserts of all kinds – especially ice cream. And I can eat with the best of them. One of nine children in my family of origin, I like to say that I had to hold my own at the dinner table and when dessert was served. And I did (just ask my brothers). Sweet things make me feel at home. They are comfortable and sometimes comforting. And since I’m always craving them? Well, they always seem to hit the spot.
But in the last few years I have had to be intentional to strengthen my immune system, which has meant drastically cutting back on sugar. And it’s funny what happened when I did. First, I realized sugar is in absolutely everything. I had no idea how many of the things that I ate – things that I genuinely thought were good and nourishing for me – were loaded with sugar that was slowly eating away at my overall health. Which made me all the more thankful for the second thing I noticed: the less sugar I ate, the less I craved it.
This last season of life has stretched me beyond my limits. I’m building a new ministry, running a small business, engaging a new community, working a new full-time job, and planning for future ministry of church planting with Austin. I’ve had to do more and be more than I ever thought was possible. I’m not only the visionary for my small business, but also the bookkeeper. I’m not simply Austin’s co-teacher for our theology course, but also a researcher, writer, and Power-Point-putter-together.
But in these times of feeling stretched, I have quickly realized that my sweet tooth doesn’t stop with my physical cravings, but spills over into my spiritual life as well. In times of spiritual struggle, I’ve turned to sweet, seemingly-true sayings to soothe my spiritual cravings. I’ve leaned on Pinterest-worthy quotes about how I am an overcomer who can do anything. In times of spiritual drought, I’ve been comforted by social media influencers who tell me that I already have everything I need. And in times of chaos or busyness, I’ve cherished well-intended words from friends reminding me that I am stronger than I could ever believed.
As is my old habit, in times of feeling stretched too thin I’ve reached for my sweet tooth: sweet, delectable little reminders of how capable I am, how invincible I am, and how much I can accomplish. They are comfortable and comforting. They feel like home. And, since I’m always craving them, they always seem to hit the spot.
When I first set out to cut back on sugar, I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. I craved sugar like crazy and I craved it constantly. A good friend of mine, a nurse, explained what was happening. She told me that sugar lies to our bodies, telling our bodies that we have more energy than we actually do, making us feel as though we have eaten something of more substance than we actually have. And slowly, sugar can turn us into addicts, always looking for that sweet, soothing snack or treat that will get us through to the next sugar craving.
The same can be said of the nonsense I’ve been feeding myself. Simply put, these sweet-sounding inspirational quotes are lying to me. They’re telling me I can do more than I really can. They’re sweet on the lips and fall on our ears with the impression that they offering lasting nourishment – only to leave us exhausted and defeated and looking for our next inspirational fix.
Over the past five weeks I’ve been teaching through the book of Philippians in my digital Bible study. And while Paul emphasizes the importance of community and unity in the body, he also says, “Each of you should work out your own salvation ….” What Paul is not saying is that each of us is responsible to save ourselves; of course, that is only the work of a perfect, sovereign, kind God. What he is saying that each of us is responsible to look after our own spiritual growth. When we are united to the Son of God in salvation it will bear its effects in our lives. It will be “worked out” in our daily relationships and words, and evidence of our new identity in Christ will be seen in our lives.
Paul’s point in context is this: you are fully united to the people of God through Christ, but only you can be ultimately responsible to see to your own spiritual health. No one can believe for us, and no one can seek God in our place. We each have to choose to grow into Christ, to seek Him with our hearts and lives, and to ask Him to expand our worship of Him. When we make that choice, we will grow in Christ in the community of believers and by His Spirit, to be sure. But no one can make that choice on our behalf. Each of us is responsible to look after our own spiritual growth.
I’m convicted about what I’ve been feeding myself spiritually as of late. I’ve surrounded myself with a bunch of reminders that put me at the center of it all, and, sweet as they sound, they are rotting my soul. They tell me I am the strongest, but do nothing to remind me of the true strength of my God. They tell me I am capable, but neglect to tell me that my God is the Source of all things. They tell me I can, but fail to remind me that He has always been and will always be “I AM.”
And only I can choose to feed myself spiritually from another source.
So here is what I want to encourage you and me in today: let’s choose to feed ourselves from a more sustaining source. Let’s choose to stop feeding ourselves spiritual garbage that doesn’t sustain. Let’s stop telling ourselves that we are strong enough and brave enough and good enough to do what we, in our very real human limitations, cannot do. Let’s embrace the reality of who we are and who our God is: We are exactly as strong as we think we are. It’s God who is going to surprise us.
I think that, as we do, we’ll find what I found with sugar: that sweet nonsense is in absolutely everything, but as we learn to identify and cut it out we will crave it less. As we remind ourselves of the truths of God’s character, we will learn to crave the rich truths of His Word. As we feed ourselves from the daily bread of His Word, we will teach ourselves to want that which eternally satisfies: Jesus.