I didn’t expect to utilize this illustration from my life so soon, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity after reading a Gone with the Wheat blog the other day in which the writer expressed frustration over the people who have embraced the gluten-free diet without taking it seriously or keeping it in proper perspective. She reminded me of three parallels between eating gluten-free and living sin-free that I began noticing last summer (2016) when I was diagnosed with celiac and had to change to a gluten-free diet. (So, thanks, glutenfreelady, for helping create this opportunity!)
The first parallel concerns freedom. The freedom from pain and permanent damage (for those with celiac) is worth whatever cost, inconvenience, and self-denial it demands of me. Our grocery budget immediately jumped $100 due to the extra expense of gluten-free foods. The grocery shopping, food prep, and cooking routines had to change—not always conveniently. I have said “goodbye” to some favorite foods. Once-favored restaurants are no longer an option because they have nothing I can eat. Even holding hands during mealtime prayer has stopped, because others may have already touched their gluten-filled food! And traveling now is seriously hampered—no more eating whatever is at the next exit. No, I must now strategically plan every meal in advance. Naturally, my family gets aggravated sometimes over the inconvenience my diagnosis puts on them, and I’m not thrilled over losing options.
But freedom from the embarrassing belching, painfully bloated gut, and debilitating shortness of breath is worth every dime, every habit/routine change, and every lost yummy I once ate. After being so acutely miserable with nearly every meal, finally experiencing peace in my gut is a wonderful sensation that defies words! I never want to go back! I don’t care how much I once loved any food, NO TASTY MORSEL IS WORTH THE PAIN!
Long before the celiac diagnosis, God gave me this mantra: “I no longer love any food that does not love me back.” Foods that make me suffer—and especially those that cause me damage—are not loving me, so I will not love them!
The same thing can be said about sin—be it a violation of God’s law or the simple bad habits and other less-than-ideal behaviors that cause problems in life and relationships. Some choices seem like good ideas, appearing to love us back by giving us something we wanted, only to ultimately come back to bite us. Who enjoys that?! Does anyone ever enjoy the hangover after drinking too much? Was that hateful little remark to your loved one worth “living in the dog house”? Don’t we all swear to never procrastinate again while we work frantically to meet a deadline? Clearly, sin is to everyone what gluten is to the celiac–painful, damaging, and ultimately deadly if left uncorrected.
If sin is so bad for us, then why do we persist in it? Many theology and counseling books answer this question in detail, but basically, we struggle because the momentary pleasure of the choice blinds us to the bigger or longer-lasting pain.
When the pain and discomfort gets strong enough, though, we become willing to do whatever it takes to find relief. Suddenly, that unpleasant, inconvenient self-discipline we avoided before, now seems a very small price to pay! Some people no longer own or use computers just to avoid porn. Others have left jobs and even moved to end affairs or avoid bad influences. Those are heavy prices to pay but are worth the freedom gained to enjoy peace, sanity, and things of greater value like a happy, loving marriage, etc.
How much better it is, of course, to wisely foresee the negative consequences for bad choices and never select those choices at all! Perhaps my mantra should say, “I no longer love any behavior that does not fully love me back.”
Both lifestyles—gluten-free and sin-free—are examples of restriction generating freedom. By denying myself that which harms me, regardless of its enjoyment or ease, I give myself freedom from pain, suffering, and long-lasting damage and consequences. Sure, that first attempt to change (aka “repent”) is difficult, but pay that price upfront and reap a harvest of freedom in the long run.
The second parallel is that taking care of the root problem can resolve other seemingly unrelated problems. During my year of gut drama, I learned that a large portion of the body’s immune system is in our digestive tract. So, if the digestive system isn’t healthy, then the immune system won’t be any better. And when our immune system is compromised, all kinds of things can go wrong—as in, a wide variety of things that seem totally unrelated. Unfortunately, even doctors can miss the connection, diagnosing a diverse collection of ailments as independent problems, when they’re actually symptoms of something greater.
Admittedly, I am no medical doctor, so I make the above statements with limited knowledge; but my experience supports my position. In retrospect, it’s obvious to me that my gut health had been poor for a long time, manifesting with symptoms that nobody connected to my diet and digestive tract. Eczema-like rashes would break out occasionally in various places. For the past few years, though, this rash was on my eyelids continuously. Repeatedly, doctors diagnosed it as eczema or contact dermatitis, prescribed a cream, and left it at that! Yet, now that I’ve been healing my gut, my skin issues are disappearing! I didn’t have contact dermatitis; I had diet dermatitis! Or maybe the cause was actually my thyroid; it tested back and forth between normal and hypo for a while before finally going extremely hypo last summer. Regardless of the root problem, the point remains: once I started treating the root problem, other problems started resolving “on their own.”
Likewise with sin, when we address the root problem, a lot of other problems seem to just self-correct. God illustrated this truth when He had me preach on the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:21-34) at a church. In this parable, Man #1 refused to forgive Man #2 of a miniscule debt, wanting Man #2 to pay by going to prison. Because he wouldn’t forgive, Man #1 found himself in prison! As part of my sermon, the audience listened to Kenny Mark’s “The Prisoner,” and I said that sometimes our troubles are actually connected to a choice we made that appears unrelated–that a spiritual sin can cause us physical problems. I didn’t know what was going on in the parishioners’ lives, but God knew someone needed to hear that sermon!
The next Sunday, a lady put a very large sum of money in the offering—her tithe that she had saved but not given for a long time. She was taking care of her root problem. Here’s the back story I learned. A friend of this lady had suffered a business loss with a partner who was also a leader in the church, causing disputes and tension between the partners. This lady decided she would also be offended, only she held her grudge against the church, refusing to pay her tithe even though she attended regularly. Meanwhile, she could not stay healthy, and her child was causing her all kinds of grief. Unrelated? No, and after that sermon, she knew it; she needed to deal with the root problem before she could find relief from the other problems. Sure enough, after she forgave (gave up the offense that wasn’t hers to begin with) and paid what she owed to God, she began experiencing some victory in the other areas.
Please understand me: sin is not always the root problem behind all other problems! Sickness and other troubles are not always directly traceable to some sinful action done by the sufferer. Just as glutenfreelady has exhorted us to not assume gluten is always the culprit, I caution against assuming a sin is directly behind every woe. So how do you know what the root problem is, if there even is one? Well, that segues nicely to the third parallel.
The third parallel is that the diagnosis, along with facing and accepting that truth, is empowering. Besides having generally poor gut health, I now believe I was also gluten intolerant (but not yet celiac) for a long time, for I suffered sporadically with the same symptoms. Without a definitive diagnosis, though, I couldn’t figure out on my own what was wrong. I knew the advice about not eating bread products for two weeks, but since they were a huge part of my meals, I never did it because I couldn’t imagine my life without bread! In fact, I unwittingly prolonged my suffering a few times by confusing the pain with hunger signals and eating even more!
Finally, when the suffering became a daily occurrence and increasingly interfered with my ability to function, I humbly reached out for help, ready to do whatever was necessary. One of the first things I did was share my symptoms with a nurse friend. She thought of several possible causes, including the obvious IBS and celiac, but also lesser known causes like yeast in the gut and H. Pylori. I had never heard of these last two, so I curiously read the links she emailed to me. After reading about the yeast and getting positive results with the article-provided home test and treatment plan, I was convinced I had a yeast problem. Still, I also did the inconvenient thing of going to my doctor, who did blood tests for all the possibilities, including celiac and H. Pylori—the two things I was certain would be negative.
Surprise! Both celiac and H. Pylori were positive! However, the blood tests were not enough; further inconvenient testing was required. This was the only way to distinguish the real root problem and know for certain how to treat it, for H. Pylori has a much different path to wellness than celiac. While H. Pylori was ruled out, celiac was confirmed by biopsy. Now I had a definite path to freedom.
The key factor at this point: would I accept that diagnosis and submit myself to it? I could have persisted in my previous belief that celiac was not my problem, but I would still be miserable. I could have decided earlier to not even pursue finding out what was wrong and foolishly continued eating that which was harming me. But I didn’t. I faced the truth and accepted it.
Suddenly, I was able to resist temptations to eat gluten foods. Before, every taste sample being offered in the stores and mall was tempting. Now, without the slightest struggle, I can say, “No,” as I keep on walking without breaking my stride. I expected to struggle more, but I don’t.
I think a big reason is that I know now what the problem truly was, so I know how to avoid it. Knowledge really is empowering! That is, knowledge that is submitted to is empowering.
The sin-free life may not be quite as easy as my experience with living gluten-free, but I still believe it is true to say that when we discover and accept the truth about sin, we find an increase in our ability to resist and avoid it. How can we learn the truth about sin? Just as going to the doctor resolved the mystery about gluten for me, going to the Great Physician provides the answer to sin and victory over it. After all, Dr. Jesus described Himself as The Truth (John 14:6) and said that those who follow His instructions will know the truth, which would set them free (John 8:31-32).
The ultimate question, then, is this: will you accept the truth–whether it be about your physical ailments or your spiritual need–and pay whatever “price” is involved to find your freedom from pain, damage, and even death?
I pray that you will. (Contact me for further help if you need it.)
Thanks for reading!
*In addition to thanking my husband for some important edits to this post, I also want to give special thanks to Majetta Morris of Bright Light Editing for her tremendous help in refining and trimming this post down, resulting in a drop of over 400 words!