Millions of people do it every morning. The French do it. The Thai do it. And, I’ve noticed, many athletes do it, too. They eat vegetables for breakfast.
I didn’t think I could ever get used to the idea myself, especially with my penchant for Sausage McMuffins and warmed cinnamon rolls, but my friend and I looked at each other last March and decided to do something about our potbellies.
We were tired of carrying around the extra 25 pounds, mainly because we remembered how fun it was to be young, flexible, and filled with athletic energy. We thought, “We may be getting old, but that doesn’t mean we have to act like it!”
So we began to check in with each other about ways to lose weight and get in shape. When I saw him a month later, he had lost 10 pounds, which led me to ask him his secret. Aside from the normal stuff like eating reasonable portions, cutting down on carbs, and being careful not to eat your emotions, he shared that two days a week he ate only vegetables and nothing else.
Well, I may be a goal-oriented person, but I sure wasn’t going to do that!
But here’s the thing, I didn’t need to, and nor would my friend ever suggest that I should. You see, we’ve known each other since kindergarten, and he’s always been there for me. He knows how I tick, but he also is one of the best teachers I’ve ever met.
Even though we live in different cities, he thinks of me and texts me whenever I need his support or get stuck in my progress. He writes things like, “Eat like the person you want to become” and “Drink a glass of water before you eat a meal.” Sage counsel like that.
What I’m trying to say is that whenever you are facing a behavioral change, one of the most important secrets to your success is having a friend stand by you, or at least someone who has your best interest at heart.
That’s why Weight Watchers is so effective, as well as all 12-Step Programs. You are surrounded by people who walk with you as you go through the process of transformation and begin to encounter resistance from inside yourself as well as from outside.
I can honestly say that without my friend, I would never have reached my intermediate goals. With his encouragement and insights, I’ve lost 22 pounds since March, which makes this the first time my doctor has refrained from calling me “obese” in years.
Now, with the inspiration of watching the Rio Olympics, I have set a new goal to be able to run again, and maybe even play tennis, without doubling over and feeling like I’m having a heart attack. (And, yes, don’t worry about me, I’ve recently completed an echocardiogram and my cardiologist has cleared me to go for it.)
But I write this message not to tell you about my personal struggles, or even to spotlight a recent accomplishment. I write to encourage you as we begin this season of transformation together.
One of my favorite Bible passages speaks of transformation this way: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).
Transformation is tough. It takes all we’ve got. To accomplish it, we first need to have our “minds renewed,” and I’m weak enough to say—or am I strong enough?—that I often don’t have enough insight on my own to know where to start, much less to make the changes stick that I’d like to put in place over the long haul. I have to be open to letting go of beliefs and practices I once thought were “the only way” and replace them with beliefs and practices that are a better way.
I wouldn’t have thought that to lose weight, for example, that I would need to eat more. I sure as heck didn’t have the constitution to eat only vegetables three meals a day like my friend, but I do love vegetables, and I have taken to carrying around a small cooler filled with them so I’m less likely to reach for Triscuits and potato chips when I get hungry. “Iron sharpens iron,” even if there are different grades of it.
I think that is why our ordination vows in the PC(USA) include a question about “being friends to our colleagues.” We need to be good friends to each other because the transformation we seek involves more insight and effort than any one of us can muster on our own. Transformation may start with the “renewing of our minds,” but it isn’t finish until it is expressed through our hands and feet and faces, even our potbellies.
In May, our presbytery adopted goals and strategies that appear to some like the Himalayas of church life. Accomplishing what we wish to do, what we must do, may seem like too great a climb for many of us. But I believe that we can do anything to which God calls us if we walk together in friendship and love.
Don’t get me wrong. I am talking about profound behavior changes here. The changes we need to make as congregations and as a presbytery will be much more difficult than any weight loss or exercise program you can imagine.
We live in a society that often characterizes the Church as irrelevant, self-concerned, closed-minded, hypocritical, and judgmental. Each of us as individuals, and all of us as congregations, will need to examine ourselves for ways we have earned these characterizations and what we can do to overcome them. Indeed, we will need to re-think the way we measure what it means to be faithful disciples and flourishing congregations, and then help each other lean into the transforming work that only God can do by the power of his Spirit.
I didn’t think I’d ever eat vegetables for breakfast, but here I am. It took a friend, and it will take the friendship of all of us to become the presbytery that God is calling us to be in our time. I know we have it in us because we have it among us and between us. We’re better together. Let’s go for it!