My cousin Linda, a successful dieter, once told me the secret: "You have to like the feeling of your stomach grumbling." She was exactly right. If she were a Christian, she might have directed me for comparison to James 1:2: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." The grumbling stomach is the earnest and down payment of success-a size 8 dress.
Dieting, of course, is a desert experience. It is a kind of living "in the world but not of it." Everyone around you is partying (or so you imagine), and here you are an exile in your own country-nothing to look forward to at the three way stations of the day that make life worth living. Linda made lemonade from lemons, if you will. Not a ruse she perpetrated on herself but the truth: Beyond the horizon of the shoreless Sahara is the Promised Land-if only you can learn to see mild discomfort as temporary, and as leading to that glorious place (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Enough free dieting advice. Other desert experiences clot my mind today, and the most svelte among us will get bogged down by some of them. You will hit dry patches in life. You will wake up one morning and see absolutely nothing to look forward to. Some people bound out of bed and kiss the day smack on the lips. These have a book to finish writing, a house to finish renovating. Not you. On Sunday you heard a rousing sermon, but it's Monday morning, and as you haul out the recyclables, there is no 20-piece orchestra to lend life drama and transcendence, as in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. If Thoreau is right, this describes "the mass of men."
My hunch is we lose more people to dryness than to certified disasters. Perhaps one man in 10 can stay standing in multicolor catastrophe; only one in 1,000 can stay standing in dryness. Turmoil we can take, and being too busy is bearable, but who can stand before boredom? Did you ever stop to think that boredom may have been among the worst trials Abraham had to suffer? Here he comes from hep and urbane Ur of the Chaldeans and plops his tent in no-man's land. In the 21st century we at least have multiplexes and cable; judging by the Genesis narrative, Abe had "the trees of Mamre."
God put the Israelites in a desert to see what they would do. They couldn't take it; they beat back the desert blues with a project-the golden calf. "God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness" (1 Corinthians 10:5).
In parts of the world not conveniently situated to a desert, He uses other kinds of parchedness, and Satan has a field day: "The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see it is so hard for these creatures to persevere" (The Screwtape Letters).
People who stop persevering abandoned the future before they ever abandoned the present. Moses, not succumbing either to desert or to palace luxury, "endured as seeing him who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:27). If it were a diet you would say he could picture the size 8.
Everyone is a philosopher. Everyone lives out of some vision or other of the future. The cashier I see on break at O'Neil's market, curled up with her Harlequin romance novel, has made a decision about the future, and it dictates how she spends her break. But God has something better in store for us, if we "hold fast our confidence" (Hebrews 3:6), "not shifting from the hope of the gospel" (Colossians 1:23).
It is hope that transforms-the tenaciously held vision of something "imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven." Let go of the hope and what have you got? A lot of gastric juices swirling around in your gut to no purpose, for you to smother any way you can. Hold on to the hope and what have you got? Internal rumblings that remind you of the glory that is reserved for you. And whenever my tummy growls, I still always think of Linda.