Monday, November 26, 2018

Book of Virtues # 12 - "Are You a Turducken?"

            Thanksgiving has come and gone.  You know what that means—a time to gather with friends and family, a time to focus on spirituality and gratitude for what God has given you, a time to feast your soul on the bounty of God’s grace.  If you’re like most Americans, this sounds like an utterly unrealistic explanation of the holiday, which today is all about football and food.  In terms of food, we have a way of going over the top with new creations.  You’ve probably heard of the turducken—a turkey stuffed with a duck, stuffed with a chicken.  Sometimes our celebrating can get a little excessive, and we can find ourselves caught up in over-indulgence.  At the end of Thanksgiving Day, you can end up feeling like YOU are a turducken—over-stuffed and overindulged.  Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with celebrating.  Proverbs 9:1-5[i] says:

Wisdom has built her house;
    she has set up its seven pillars.
She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine;
    she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servants, and she calls
    from the highest point of the city,
“Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
“Come, eat my food
    and drink the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways and you will live;
    walk in the way of insight.”

            No, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating.  In Proverbs, Wisdom calls us to a feast.  Jesus frequently feasted with friends, to the degree that those who misunderstood called him a glutton and a drunk.[ii]  But of course, Jesus was the sinless example of self-control, which is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.[iii]  When Wisdom invites us to a feast, it’s within the limits of common sense.  But Proverbs, our book of virtues, discourages overindulgence.  Verses 13-18 say:

Folly is an unruly woman;
    she is simple and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house,
    on a seat at the highest point of the city,
calling out to those who pass by,
    who go straight on their way,
“Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
“Stolen water is sweet;
    food eaten in secret is delicious!”
But little do they know that the dead are there,
    that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.

            Wisdom may call us to feast with her, but Folly invites us to overindulge, binging on stolen water and food eaten in secret.  Now, personally, I’ve never seen anybody steal water.  It’s like, remember when you would go over to Grandma’s house and you’d ask if you could have some of that water out of the little glass water dish on the side table?  And Grandma’d say, “No, you, you can’t have any water.  You have to wait til after dinner.”  But then you’d sneak it when she wasn’t looking.  Then you’d be off around the corner, drinking that water and saying to yourself, “Mmm—this stolen water sure is sweet!”  No—if that happened, it’d be a sign you were way overcommitted to that water, wouldn’t it?  Then you’d run off and sneak some food.  One of the marks of an eating disorder is when people feel the need to hoard food in secret stashes or eat when nobody can see or judge them.  Overindulging on food is common at Thanksgiving.  So is overindulging on alcohol.  Proverbs warns: “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise (20:1).” Proverbs 23:19-21 says, “Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path: Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”

            The Bible puts drunkenness on par with gluttony—in fact, they are the same thing.  Both are overindulgence.  But Wisdom encourages self-discipline.  William Bennett, editor of The Book of Virtues, writes, “In self-discipline, one makes a ‘disciple’ of oneself.  One is one’s own teacher, trainer, coach, and ‘disciplinarian.’…There is much unhappiness and personal distress in the world because of failures to control tempers, appetites, passions, and impulses.  ‘Oh, if only I had stopped myself’ is an all too familiar refrain.”[iv] 

            It’s easy to get yourself into a sticky mess with over-indulgence.  But food and drink aren’t the only things you can over-indulge in.  Remember the story of King Midas, who never had his fill of gold?  Like a superhero, he was granted the ability to turn everything he touched to gold.  At first, that seemed like a great thing, a fantastic way to get even richer.  But he couldn’t pick up food to eat, because it turned to gold.  He couldn’t take a glass of water, because it became gold.  When his little daughter threw her arms around him and kissed him, she turned to golden statue.  He’d lost all that was worth having—so having learned his lesson, he pleaded for his gift to be taken away, and everything was restored.[v]

            There are plenty of people who have overindulged in one way or another—whether that’s food or drink or smoking or drugs or sex or gaming or social media or gambling or anything else that you once thought you could control, but that now controls you.  Now, like Midas, you’re pleading for God to take away the consequences of your addictive behavior.  Maybe you’ve seen your little daughter turn to gold right in front of your eyes, because of your actions.  Maybe you’ve seen your family suffer because of what you’ve done. The sad truth is that you must live with the consequences—but God can heal you of the disease of your addiction, if you’ll let him.  Jesus recognized that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).”  Hebrews 4:15-16 says that Jesus will help us.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  When you beat yourself up because you’ve blown it—remember that God gives grace. 

If this message has hit you where you live, the first step is admitting that you’re a turducken.  This is why people in an A.A. meeting stand up and say, “Hi, my name is Bob, and I’m an alcoholic.”  You’ve got to get honest with yourself and others about the problem you have.  Maybe you’ve got some other kind of addiction going on.  You’ve stuffed yourself so full and overindulged in whatever way, and it’s become a problem.  Because of this problem, life has lost its sanity, and it’s no longer sustainable.  You can see that this problem is hurting the people that you love, and it’s hurting you.  There are people who can help.  Talk with your pastor or doctor or counselor.  Step into a local twelve-step recovery meeting.  Make sure you get the help you need.  God gives grace, but only you can take the first step. 

[i] Scripture quotations taken from the NIV.
[ii] Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34
[iii] Galatians 5:23.
[iv] Bennett, William J.  The Book of Virtues.  Simon & Schuster: New York.  1993.  Pg. 21.
[v] Hawthorne, Nathaniel.  “The Golden Touch.”  Ibid, pp. 63-66

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