No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.”
-C.S. Lewis

Is it just me or do you have recur­ring night­mares where you’re wrestling a wild preda­tor? I do and it’s ter­ri­fy­ing. Can you imag­ine falling into a cage and wrestling a goril­la? Chances of sur­vival are bleak. Goril­la fights turn out to be a handy metaphor for wrestling com­pul­sions, those strong, irra­tional impuls­es of body and mind. These stub­born sen­sa­tions find their roots in the car­di­nal sins, and man­i­fest as ingrained habits of human brokenness. 

You know my sto­ry. I deter­mine nev­er to do it again. I fight against it. I lose to it. This cycli­cal strug­gle to pin my per­son­al goril­la is so com­mon and so trag­ic. It’s just as Lewis quipped, try­ing to be good, I dis­cov­er my bad­ness — my bro­ken­ness. Does that mean I’m stuck in the cage, scream­ing, bleed­ing, and dying? Not at all. There’s hope. What’s my one advan­tage over a goril­la? My mind. My brain. My intelligence. 

Instead of lung­ing at the goril­la, I can lunge for the tree. Instead of going for the kill, I can climb out of the cage! The hard truth is this, I can’t kill the goril­la, just like I can’t kill the com­pul­sion. I’ve got to stop attack­ing it, and escape it. It’s a para­dox of inten­tion. A forced inten­tion makes impos­si­ble what one forcibly wish­es,” wrote Vik­tor Fran­kl. When my atten­tion gets refo­cused toward the prop­er object then the com­pul­sion will unrav­el spontaneously. 

One of my goril­las is glut­tony. Over the years. I’ve become a gour­mand, a per­son who enjoys eat­ing and often eats too much. I can’t stop at meals, it’s a con­stant wrestling match against indul­gence, no mat­ter how many times I try to white-knuck­le-it at the table and say, I’m only going to eat 10 chips with sal­sa this time, or I’m only order­ing off the kids’ menu, or Im not eat­ing off the kids’ plates any­more, it doesn’t work. All of these frontal assaults don’t help, they won’t kill the gorilla.

So how do I escape glut­tony? By prac­tic­ing spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines, sim­ple exer­cis­es that build strength of char­ac­ter by elic­it­ing God’s trans­form­ing grace. One that has been espe­cial­ly help­ful is fast­ing. Fast­ing is a way of train­ing with the Spir­it, it’s a way of tran­scend­ing the com­pul­sion, and it illus­trates the way all spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines work. Richard Fos­ter, author of Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline says it beautifully: 

We can­not by direct effort make our­selves into the kind of peo­ple who can live ful­ly alive to God. Only God can accom­plish this in us.… We do not, for exam­ple, become hum­ble mere­ly by try­ing to become hum­ble. Action on our own would make us all the more proud of our humil­i­ty. No, we instead train with Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines appro­pri­ate to our need.… By an act of the will we choose to take up dis­ci­plines of the spir­i­tu­al life that we can do. These dis­ci­plines are all actions of body, mind, and spir­it that are with­in our pow­er to do.… Then the grace of God steps in, takes this sim­ple offer­ing of our­selves, and cre­ates out of it the kind of per­son who embod­ies the good­ness of God.

I’ve been train­ing with the spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline of fast­ing for the last twelve months and it’s been delight­ful to see the slow, lib­er­at­ing work of grace that’s enabling me to over­come my com­pul­sion. I’ve com­plete­ly aban­doned my head­strong assaults on glut­tony and replaced them with a sim­ple dai­ly fast once a week. I don’t have to wres­tle, I can escape. I’ve been at this for a while. I’m not out of the cage yet, but I’m get­ting high­er. I’m mov­ing upwards from limb to limb. Some­times I fall — that’s okay, it’s all a part of escap­ing. It’s all a part of the jour­ney. The impor­tant thing is to keep climbing.

Originally published August 2016

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