I’m fat. Not fluffy. Not big-boned. Not husky. Just plain old fat. I’ll be the last to starve in a famine. I’ll be the first to float in a water evacuation. And my insulation should keep me warm, comfortable, and well-fed should my GPS ever direct my car into a snow bank in the mountains in the middle of December.
A few years ago, while on staff retreat with the other pastors at my church, we stopped at a local restaurant. We looked like that picture of mankind’s “evolution” from a fish to walking upright—only this picture was about the progression of weight gain. We had our super-fit pastor, our “normal looking” associate, a few of the guys with a little bit of “middle”…and me. The waitress came by to take our orders, engaging us as they do in the South—calling us all varying names for Sugar, Sweetie, and the like. She took everyone’s order, and then came to me. “And how ‘bout you, Hun…you look hungry.” The entire table erupted in laughter. I teased back. “Are you trying to say I’m fat? Because usually skinny people are the ones who actually LOOK hungry.”
I’ve been doing that for years…laughing off my weight. Making a joke before someone else has a chance to. Laughing at myself to drown out the laughter of others. But it’s really not funny anymore.
Looking back, I haven’t always had a problem with my weight, but I always thought I did. I was a pudgy kid. So even when I thinned out in high school, I still saw myself as a fat kid. So I’ve spent years gaining and losing, gaining and losing, and gaining and gaining…until I’ve successfully landed at well over 300 pounds. No matter how many jokes I make, that’s just not funny. Or healthy.
In this journey, I’ve learned some things about myself that many people attribute to fatties.
I am NOT lazy. I work hard—in everything. I’m accomplished in my job, my family, and I’ve known successful weight loss. In fact, in 1999 I even appeared as a guest on “Good Morning America” chronicling my weight loss through a new medium: the Internet message board. In 2008, I made it to one of the final rounds to be a contestant on The Biggest Loser, but I lost out to another youth pastor. And I don’t know if you’ve ever auditioned for a reality television series, but it’s a lot of work.
I am NOT sloppy. I pay attention to detail. I’m organized. I take a daily shower—sometimes more than one. I don’t wear sweats. Ever. I wash my hair, trim my nails, and take pride in my appearance. My clothes aren’t stained with pizza sauce or grease, and I don’t usually have food on my face or in my teeth.
I am NOT dumb. I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in my field of study. I mentor young youth pastors. I’m a published author, I speak to large crowds, and can assess a situation and offer wise counsel quickly. I can even balance my checkbook!
So if I’m not those things, then why am I still fat? Well for all the things I’m not, there are a few things that I am—and those things chain me to this struggle.
I AM self-conscious. In my mind, I’ve been battling this weight demon for…ever. It’s humiliating to be in public, period. I wonder if everyone’s staring when I order food. I never eat much at buffets because I wonder what people are thinking as they see me grazing at the food trough. And forget about exercising in public. Whether it’s at the local gym or just walking down my street, there’s nothing more degrading for a fat person than profuse sweating and sucking wind.
I AM a “fill-in-the-blanker.” While there are always those who say thoughtless, well-intentioned things like the waitress did, those aren’t the words that keep me from moving forward. It’s the words in my own head that I use to fill in the blanks…the things unsaid. “I didn’t get that job because they’re disgusted by how fat I am.” “I’ll bet that guy’s thinking Please don’t let me get stuck sitting next to the fat guy on aisle 15!” “The kids don’t really want me to come to school lunches because they don’t want to explain to their friends who the obese funny guy is…”
I AM a success addict. In just about every area of my life, I’ve achieved a lot of success. I’ve broken chains in my household that have plagued our family name for years. I’m well-respected in the youth ministry community. I have accolades and adoration that I’ve never sought, but have been so honored to receive. But despite the successes I’ve seen in my life, this demon reminds me continually that I’m a failure; its blood-curdling scream is louder than any of the faint whispers of success.
I AM terrified. I don’t know how to live skinny. People like a jolly fat guy. I mean, Santa’s popular, right? What if I stop being funny at 220?! I can wear fat as a cloak of security when necessary. (I can’t climb that, ride that, or do that…because of my weight.) I might “try” this weight loss thing again, and do great…again, and then gain the weight back…again. And as a success addict, I can’t bear the thought of failing at something again…so I just won’t.
A while ago my wife and I began praying together for some very specific things. Katie’s prayer was something like, “Lord, let this be the year Darren conquers these demons.” That request has plagued me for weeks now. Conquering. That’s a fighting word. It means I have to engage in something difficult—wrestle it to the ground, subdue it, and win. And this weight-loss dream? Make no mistake. It’s a demon. In my head I see a snarling, snaggle-toothed minion with a Twinkie in one hand and a blood-pressure cuff in the other…drooling and laughing and spitting on me. I don’t know where this guy came from, and I’m beginning to wonder if it really makes a difference. Does it really matter why I still struggle with this sin, this failure, this public display of all I’m not? It really only matters that I fight this guy until he’s dead…or I am.
And that’s the thing about conquering demons. It’s a fight. Multiple times in my life, I thought that maybe I’d actually won the fight. But all I really did was learn to live at peace with my tormentor. I’ve shut him down by shutting myself down. As long as I’m quiet and do what I am told, my captor is friendly. And if he’s friendly, and I’m quiet, this doesn’t really seem so bad. I can stay caged in this mental cellar, abducted by a benevolent psychopath who won’t hurt me if I just give up and live quietly. But that’s not conquering anything. It’s just living at peace with him, and I’m still bound to the dank, dark cellar floor by titanium chains. But if I raise my hand to fight, he comes snarling back to life. The peace has been threatened and he will not stand for that. I’m still held hostage.
Conquering demons—whatever they are, wherever they come from—requires a fight. More than a fight, it will be a battle. Someone, maybe everyone, will be bloodied, bruised, and broken. But it will be finished.
At some point, whatever our battles are, we must choose to fight. Our enemy would seek to keep us bound, chained in the dungeon of our own despair, disdain, and defeat. But captive living, no matter how peaceful it has become, no matter how still and quiet the chains are, is still captive living. No freedom.
And that’s not living.
What’s the name on the demon you’re chained to? It’s worth the fight to break those chains.