The God of second chances

Insanity, says Albert Einstein, is repeating the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. That is why this Lent is going to be just another failed diet for many.

Mar 10, 2024

Word in Progress - Karen-Michaela Tan

Insanity, says Albert Einstein, is repeating the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. That is why this Lent is going to be just another failed diet for many.

I know two things well: God’s love, and my failure to lose weight. Let me just state for the record that the weight I have to lose is not the be-able-to-look-better-at-the-pool weight, but rather the better-not-wear-black-in-the-pool-or-be-mistaken-for-an-orca kind. I don’t care how politically correct or kind you are. Don’t patronise me and call me big boned, chubby, large, or any acceptable adjective. I am fat. Obese. And I am secure in myself and God’s love for me to call a spade a spade.

For countless Lents I have endeavoured to lose weight on the pretext of fasting. I lied to myself that I was doing it because it was one of the three traditional pillars of Lent (prayer and almsgiving being the others). It invariably never worked because it came from a place of dishonesty.

God is aware of the intentions behind our actions, but because He is so good, He allows us the free will of our personal falsehoods. It is only when I learnt to look at the liar in the mirror and give her my name did I enter truly into the spirit of Lent. This kind of revelation only comes from the Holy Spirit.

John 16:8–11 reads: And when the Holy Spirit has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

I have been 75, 90, 100 and 103 kg at different times in my life. Menopause and a difficult 2023 (my mother died, my poodle died, and killed off a bad relationship) saw me start this year at my heaviest yet. So of course, after the face-stuffing exercise that is Chinese New Year, I was more than happy to declare to all and sundry that good Catholic that I was, the festivities were over, and I was going to fast. Which made me want to eat more than ever.

There is in me a petulant child who does exactly what she is told not to, just out of spite. Call it self-sabotage or whatever you want, but after Ash Wednesday’s slice of bread, green tea and two crackers, I was ready for the whole enchilada, literally and figuratively.

Because female kind is shamed into silence when it comes to the struggle of weight loss, I have never really spoken to anyone about how hard it was for me to regulate my eating. I myself, trained in consumer psychology, could not pinpoint my triggers. I ate when I was happy to celebrate in the company of friends, but I also stuffed my face alone. I embraced the discovery of the Japanese word kuchisabishii because its meaning of “lonely mouth” or “longing to have or put something in one’s mouth” described what I felt to a T. I ate alone, I ate in company, and I ate kuchisabishii. I could lose three kilos a week and put it back on in two days.

I underwent hypnotherapy, which I think curtailed my desire for sweets, but the truth is, sweets are not my weakness. I can take a bite of ice cream and throw the rest away without any problem save my Chinese financial sensibilities about waste, but it is the allure of crunchy, salty things that do me in.

Over teh tarik I blurted out to my friend Jenny who was visiting from Singapore that I thought I had an eating disorder. Jenny is someone I have known for over 20 years, but she would not have been my first choice of confidant, being a tiny little wren of a woman who had not changed in dress size since puberty. And yet the Spirit convicted me to speak to her about my inability to keep my Lenten observances despite my desire to do so.

She quoted Jeremiah 17:9-10 to me: The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.

And in that tacky-floored, sticky-tabled mamak restaurant, I felt the Spirit convicting me of deceit. The thing that made me know that it was the Holy Spirit instead of a counter spirit, was the lightness I felt from this discovery. The Holy Spirit had convicted me: He had pointed out a long-standing falsity in my thinking, but it was not done to make me despair, but to set me free. The Holy Spirit breaks the power of lies over lives, and brings about the possibility of a new life through conversion powered by an educated understanding of the state of our fallenness.

I realised then the resonating truth of Hosea 6:6, I desire mercy and not sacrifice. I needed to show myself the mercy and compassion I sought when I set out to fast at Lent. I needed to be healed before I began my spiritual observances in earnest. I had gotten it wrong by beginning from a place of guilt, when what God needed me to be was free to begin properly.

You may not suffer from kuchisabishii, or need to lose weight for the very sake of your life or joints, but I hazard I am not alone in my duplicity of intention this Lent. The beauty of Lent is that as we reach upwards to God and to the better version of ourselves, God reaches down to us. This Lent, I hope when you ask God for help with your weaknesses, you will hear Him reply, as Jesus did to the leper who said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” in Matthew 8:1-3, I am willing, be cleaned.

(Karen-Michaela Tan is a poet, writer and editor who seeks out God’s presence in the human condition and looks for ways to put the Word of God into real action.)

Total Comments:0