A few years ago a diet book came out called “Eat This, Not That”. Pretty self-explanatory. I think it would be hard to write an entire book outlining what should be common sense. Do we really need hard evidence that we should eat Strawberries (“this”), not Strawberry flavored ice cream (“that”) or a baked potatoes (“this”), not french fries (“that”)? I realize there is more to the book than these kind of instructions, but humor me for a few minutes. This morning I was reflecting on Step 7 of the 12 Steps of Recovery. It says, we “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.” We ask Him to take from us the character defects that cause us to “come up short” of His standard for us. And though I used to believe otherwise, today I don’t see it so black and white. When we humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings, we allow Him to choose which ones benefit us and which ones don’t. My typical approach has been to give Him a list of things I don’t like about myself and request that He take them away. Please take my selfishness, my stubbornness, my attempts to control and manage my image. But the more I learn about this step, a couple things occur to me…
The first is that when He does take something away, it needs to be replaced with something else. Theologian Richard Rohr says, “God’s totally positive and lasting way to remove our shortcomings is to replace it with something much better, more luminous and more satisfying.” Otherwise we are left empty and are tempted to long for and crave those defects. Anything feels better than hollow. We have to be open and willing to receive His good and fulfilling gifts of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.”
The second thought that occurred to me is that it’s not always an “all or nothing” scenario. Sometimes, when we are not spiritually fit or under the influence of addictive powers that are unhealthy for us, our assets actually become defects. They are too far down the dangerous end of the continuum. When God “removes our shortcomings”, there may be times when He says, “eat broccoli with lemon juice (“this”), not broccoli with cheese sauce (“that”). The good news is, we still get to eat broccoli (well, that’s good news for some of you. I’m still wishing someone would tell me that if I eat nuts on my ice cream and not chocolate syrup that I can keep ice cream on my diet plan). But you get my point, right? Sometimes He just needs to bring what appears to be a character defect back to it’s rightful place, turning it into an asset. For example, I have a friend who claims she has “helpful disease.” She can’t help but…help people. Helping people is not a defect of character when it is in it’s rightful place, but if she doesn’t stay emotionally healthy and spiritually fit, her tendency is to over-help and turn this gift into something that doesn’t benefit her or the “helpee”. I have to be cautious not to take advantage of this, however, because I have been the recipient of a pair of great pants that she owned (after I told her they looked good on her) and an adorable purse she bought at a party (after I mentioned that my mom’s identical purse had been set on fire by a candle).
The bottom line is this: Our job is to humbly ask. It’s God’s job to do the removing and replacing. That sounds easy, but for some of us, and especially those of us who like to feel in charge and in control and important, it is challenging. But what a relief if we can learn what is our job and what it is not. And be OK with what God takes and doesn’t take. And what He tweeks instead of takes. “Eat This. Not That.”