Sugar and Plain and Simple

vegetables

Eat more vegetables and less sugar.

“Sugar feeds cancer,” she wore a kind of frank-looking expression, a sum-it-all-up in a few words kind of expression. I’d not heard her words of wisdom until after I’d already been treated for cancer, but they struck me to the quick. Sugar, I thought! Not my good friend sugar! Yes, in every form sugar feeds cancer. It could be refined white sugar so prevalent in processed foods, raw cane sugar, agave, honey, even fruit and  fruit juice. Sugar is actually bad for most things: cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, lethargy, blah, blah, blah. So, plain and simple, it is a wise thing to reduce our overall sugar consumption.

We tend to make getting rid of sugar in our diets very complicated. We use substitute sugar replacements or some type of natural sugar like honey or agave. Stevia is the new sugar substitute that has some positive health claims. However, using these “better options”  does nothing for reducing our appetite for sweet foods, and sometimes can even make it worse. Sugar substitutes tend to rev-up a taste for sweetness.

The recommended daily amount of sugar for adults is about twenty grams or nine teaspoons which is not very much. Just one sugary drink can put us over this limit. Replacing what we eat on a daily basis with foods very low in sugar can reduce our overall dependence on sugar. Choose to eat more vegetables than fruits. Skip white rice, bread, and pasta (our bodies process sugar from these foods) and eat greens and beans and a smaller portion of whole grain foods. Use unsweetened almond or soy milk in smoothies instead of fruit juices or milk and yogurt (these contain milk sugars). Instead of using sugar and sugar substitutes, use fabulously sweet fruits like dates, bananas and mangoes to sweeten smoothies and desserts, and healthy fruit juices like carrot juice for soups. It is still sugar but our bodies are so much better at processing natural sugars and it reduces our desire for bakery foods and other sweet confections that are best saved for special occasions. Withdraw symptoms from sugar are miserable: headaches, stomach huger feelings, digestive discomforts, dizziness, a weak and shaky feeling and/or just an overwhelming malaise. It’s the body’s way of saying, “This is hurting me.”

The same sick feelings and even the same diseases we attribute to too much sugar occur with too much stress. Stress is the flight or fight feeling we get when we are under pressure and at its foundation is fear: fear of failing, fear of losing a job, fear of getting mugged, fear of losing our friends, fear of divorce, fear of consequences, fear of dying, fear of blah, blah, blah. We fret and worry over things we have done and said, over disappointments in life, and outcomes of our reckless actions. We mess up time and again–even over the same stupid stuff, or we watch the people we love suffer from our own bad choices. We get to the point where we just can’t function as well as we used to under this constant stress and guilt. God tells us to “fear not” and “cast all our anxieties on Him” but can we?

Those feelings of fear and worry, of guilt and self-reckoning though are not brought on by our own wisdom. When we actually see how far we fall from perfect, it is a gift of discernment from God. It is the kindness of God that leads us to where we can see that we have messed up. We know something is wrong. It occurs at the beginning of repentance and trust. It is the proud and guiltless person who is lost, not the one who sees his error and is sickened with fear, worry and anxiety. Those humble folks who know they will never measure up are the ones that belong to Him. God is calling us: It is a simple as that. God has made us this way, plain and simple but we make ourselves very complicated. Forgiveness is not something we earn; it is a gift and it starts with that sick, I’ve-really-messed-up-this-time feeling. It is like the little boy who falls and suddenly sees he’s made of flesh and blood because it is pouring out of a wound, that jumps up and goes running to his father for comfort.

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.” — Jesus, Mark 2:17

Resting in the Promise of Christ

Our dog

Our dog resting on the promises of Christ

I can be really hard on myself to the point where I just give up. I did this with God one time. I realized that I would never be able to match up with my ideal self — the one I know God wants me to aspire to — because my ideal self is without any weaknesses or sin.

So, back when I was a beginning Christian, I just gave up and walked in the sin I was struggling against. I walked in it for a long time and it made me miserable, but I could see no way out. You can probably imagine the kind of sin a teenager can get into and it lasted well into my twenties. I was totally stumped, and even angry at God. I knew nothing good lived inside of me, that all my thoughts and actions were sinful. I had the desire to think and act as I knew God wanted me to do, but not the ability. (Romans 7:18)

My problem was this: I had heard that Jesus died for me but I had not personalized it. I never thought that the things I did were the ones that put him on the cross. Most of my sins were not that bad so I figured I just had to deal with them on my own. But as I grew in my sin, my sin grew, and what was once a small sin was now really grieving me and controlling my life. I wished more than ever to be rid of it.

I began to miss my savior so much. I missed praying, I missed reading about him, and I missed believing in him. So I returned  to my faith with head bowed, knowing I was probably the least likely to be accepted by him. When I returned to him with this attitude, I found that the promise of Christ is that all of our sins are covered by the blood he shed on the cross: big and little. We don’t have to be perfect. We belong to him even in our sinful state.

I will never be sinless on this earth, I will always be struggling against one sin or another, but I don’t have to wait until I am perfect before I can belong to him. My weapon against sin is Christ living in me. I can rest in the promise of Christ on the cross. He will battle the sin that lives in me and free me from its bondage. I need only go to him. He will help me every step of the way. I have even prayed for the desire to be free of a particular sin.

I’m a little smarter now, and free from many of the sins of my youth, Praise God for that. But that devilish desire to be perfect creeps up on me until I once again want to give up and cry, This is too hard! The minute that happens, I know that I have been living under this same lie that leads me away from God. Fortunately for me, I can pick up almost any book in the New Testament and read that Jesus Christ died for me so that I might be free from the power of sin and so live a new life forever. I also have something I ask myself whenever I feel impatient with the sin in my life and what I am doing/feeling/thinking is just too awful and how can I really be a Christian: I say, does Christ need another nail in his hand, another stripe on his back just to cover me completely? Of course not. The sacrifice is sufficient. We can rest on that.