A while back, the associate pastor at our church announced that he would be taking three months off to go to Mexico.
Now, before you sigh with envy and work to painstakingly squelch your urge to covet, Father isn’t off to bask in the luxury of carefree relaxation in Cabo. On the contrary, he is probably working harder than he ever has, seminary studies included. You see, our beloved priest is currently facing his own personal struggle with food head on by participating in a health management boot camp of sorts.
The bulletin announcement about his impending absence, written by Father himself, explained that, during a recent medical check-up, the doctor was coming up with all sorts of excuses for some pretty significant health concerns. In his attempts to be kind and “sensitive” to Father’s feelings, the M.D. failed to address the proverbial elephant in the room, which was that his patient’s dangerous weight was the likely cause for – or, at the very least, exacerbating – his various ailments.
After reading the message, I was so proud of our priest: proud of him for confronting his demons; proud of him for being courageous enough to share his struggles with us; proud of him for knowing that these struggles, once overcome, would help him to better attend to his vocation.
I also felt a teensy bit convicted by his forthrightness, to be honest. Okay. I felt a huge, wheelbarrow-sized conviction that smacked me in the middle of my forehead. You see, God has been talking to me about my own health for some time now. While pregnant with and nursing my children over the past several years, I had slowly but surely given myself permission to not monitor my food intake. “Oh, I’m eating for two,” I’d say, rationalizing the extra helping of dessert or bread or whatever. I wasn’t really thinking of the baby’s – or my own – real needs. I was thinking of my stomach – of how good it felt in the moment to eat three or more scoops of ice cream or some other less-than-healthful food substance on a regular basis.
Only, it wasn’t really feeling good anymore. Small allowances and minor indulgences quickly became regular habits, and these habits became cravings – especially for sweets. I’d overeat, then hate myself for doing it, then eat to make myself feel better, only to start the cycle all over again. Being a “food zombie” wasn’t bringing me any lasting happiness, and it definitely wasn’t glorifying God. I truly had become a sugar junkie – an addict – someone who would impatiently wait for my next cookie, scoop of ice cream, or candy bar to get a sugar “fix.”
Not too long ago, I had a medical scare and two procedures that forced me to miss about a month of my “regular” life. Mercifully, I was able to recognize these incidences as a gift from God – a clear sign to change my unhealthy ways. I needed a better diet and more exercise. And so, I tried for a while to “do better” (perhaps a month or two), but inevitably, I slipped back to my old bad habits and probably caused my guardian angel to give himself an open-palmed slap to the forehead while rolling his eyes to China. I felt like, no matter what I tried, I just could not make any lasting adjustments of my own free will. As St. Paul lamented to the Romans, I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do – I was doing what I hate!
Thankfully, I saw Father’s commitment to changing his life as an opportunity for transformation in my own. I reasoned that, if our priest could make some heroically virtuous adjustments regarding his health, then so could I. To my husband’s overwhelming delight (he’s been on my case for years), I decided to (gasp!) give up sugar as a sign of solidarity with and support for our priest. I needed my sacrifice to mean something, and I adopted Father’s struggle as my own personal cause for solidarity.
“Great timing,” an acquaintance sneered, when I mentioned my plans. “Do you understand you’ll be going through several holidays and other festive occasions? This will mean no cake, pie, ice cream, or other sugary desserts!” She looked at me like I was crazy. She laughed as she added, “Let me remember you the way you were,” implying that there was no way I’d be happy (or any fun to be around) without chocolate. Grrr. If there’s one thing God knows about my stubborn self, it’s that I’m about 500% more likely to do something if someone tells me I can’t. I steeled my resolve, dug in my heels, and ripped off the proverbial sugar Band-Aid that very day.
So, practically, speaking, what does my sacrifice look like? “No sugar” means just that: no dessert, no sugary snacks, no soda, no sugary coffee drinks (ACK!), no added sugar in anything, etc. Every time I think of sugar, desire sugar, am around or in close proximity of sugar, I pray for Father’s success in his endeavor to win back his health. I also pray that with each small “no,” I tell myself, God will help me detach from a relationship with food that, truly, had become disordered. I pray that my sacrifice will lead to virtue – namely, prudence and self-control – for both Father and me.
And, how’s it going so far? Well, it’s been 36 days – over a month’s time – since I began this journey. I wish I could attest that saying “no” to sugar has become easier. It honestly hasn’t – yet. I wish I could also say that I have lost 20 pounds – I have not. I wish I could tell you when Father will get back so I can have sugar again (truth). I CAN say, however, that I think I have more energy now to chase my kids around, which is a huge blessing. And I think my complexion might have improved. I’ll take it. But, more importantly, I genuinely know that, with God’s help and by His grace, I am empowered to use my small sacrifices to help another. And I truly have faith that I CAN overcome anything through Christ who strengthens me – even sugar. Pass the carrots.
A version of this article originally appeared on RealCatholicMom.com about six years ago. The author believes it is time to exercise this sort of sacrificial solidarity yet again.