There are a lot of things I learned from my parents. My mother taught me how to chop an onion without hacking off my fingers. My father instructed me on how to take care of my car. However, one of the most important lessons my parents taught me dealt with what happened inside the family: Don’t tell anyone.
Privacy to my parents was an important part of our lives. Unless we had a super major issue, my parents wanted me to keep stuff that we were dealing with quiet. In the past decade, when my dad was going through some health issues, he didn’t want anyone to know. As a pastor, I ignored the lifelong familial advice – for the most part – and I asked people to pray for him.
Through most of my life, I’ve tried to keep my life private. While I’ve told some stories of my life pre-pastorate, there is a lot I haven’t told. I’ve struggled with whether or not I should tell someone about specific issues I’m dealing with, but the advice of my parents keeps scrolling through my mind: “It’s nobody’s business.”
That why earlier today in our morning devotion, admitting that I’ve struggled with keeping to a healthy plant-based diet this past year is not something that made me comfortable. Yes, I have fallen off the wagon from a plant-based diet – you can tell because I’ve gained weight (too much of it). Cravings, peer pressure, not forgetting how good pizza tasted, stress (Oh Lord, the stress) – all of it made me eat foods that plant-based doctors say are off-limits.
And one of the weirder parts of falling off the wagon: I knew it was not healthy, but I did it anyway. My health is not great now. Everything that should be down is up. I’m more lazy than active. I’ve had visions of keeling over with a heart attack and going to the great beyond. All of this because I craved a sandwich with mayo (that’s how it all started).
On Monday afternoon, I decided to change. Sitting in front of my computer screen trying to finalize the New Year’s Eve worship service, my mind kept telling me that the new year is coming and that would be a perfect time for a change. Millions of people start the new calendar year off with resolutions to do something positive. As I thought about it, why wait? So from that moment, I committed to a plan for better health, both physically and spiritually.
See, when I was gaining weight and getting unmotivated to do anything good health-wise, my spiritual life became weaker. I wasn’t praying or reading the Bible as well as a pastor should. That made my heart sink, knowing that I was not as connected to my faith as God called on me to be. And if you came to church these past couple of months, my attitude as a pastor wasn’t very “shiny.” I’ve been more down, more frustrated. It didn’t matter that family issues came up that caused me surprising amounts of stress. I needed to be better as a pastor, and I wasn’t. Oh, and my sermons became empty, filled with churchly cliches and mailed-in Lutheranism. That’s not what I was called on by God to be.
Honestly, I felt great on a plant-based diet. Aches and pains were a thing of the past as I chomped down kale and spinach, quinoa and black beans. Lunches were easy – bean soups with a salad. Breakfasts were even more straightforward – oatmeal with blueberries and flaxseed meal. Dinners were off the charts, filled with tons of vegetables and beans.
Falling into food temptation is sinful. All of us set standards for ourselves to make us better each day. We all tend to focus on being good to others or spending more time with family or friends. But it also has to do with being good to ourselves. St. Peter, in his first letter, reminds us that God has poured out upon all of the blessings of faith that lead to eternal life. As faithful believers in Jesus Christ, we’re all called to be fervent in our devotion to God and to express our faith to the fullest. But critical to this, we need to at our best. Having living hope in Jesus means we praise God for His love, grace, and mercy every single day, taking these blessings and making them active in our lives towards others, and working hard to live our days with greater hope in our Lord.
And to make our days more remarkable, all of us have to be more healthy so we can express God’s love to the fullest – not to what we think is the best, but to what God sees as being the most fulfilling for us and for those we connect with daily. To be an example of Living Hope is the purest example of God’s active love in us and for others. It requires focus, faith, and better health.