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The Gift of Weight Loss

Spiritual and physical renewal came for Pastor Karen Bates-Olson as she lost weight — and regained her sense of self.

Pastor Karen Bates-Olson
Pasco, Washington
April 2015

For the church, the body of Christ is precious, a gift from God’s hands. But as the ancient Greeks perceived, there can be two kinds of time: chronos time, time in movement, like a clock, and kairos time, time that can almost seem to take a breath for a moment and stand still, for the depth of hope and life within it.

From the end of October 2013 until early summer 2014, time for me moved as a gift into an extended period of kairos. Faith was involved and a renewal of life. I found a deepening insight into my emotional and mental processes, as well as a rediscovery that right under my surface, the Spirit has placed a wellspring of joy.

All of it started with a dramatic change in what and how I was eating.

I have had periods of life when I've struggled with weight. But there was really never an occasion where the weight loss or gain was so dramatic that I couldn't get on top of it within a reasonable length of time. That is, until over eight years ago when within the span of about seven months I gained 70 pounds. Yes, 70 pounds.

Losing Something Significant
Some people can handle extra weight with dignity and class. They never lose sight of their spirit or let go of a presence of self. I'm not one of those people. Perhaps because I am of pretty small stature or because keeping myself trim has always been important to me. Or because, bottom-line, I just don't like myself when eating habits are out of control. Weight gain always makes me uncomfortable and diseased-in-spirit.

When the weight came on so dramatically those eight years ago, I lost something significant in the process: me.

I put the weight on during a time of extremely high stress. I fretted, worried, and stewed about it from the time it went on and, through the years, tried everything I could think of to lose it. Jenny Craig. Weight Watchers. My own program. Even a weight-loss specialist. But nothing worked.

Nothing, that is, until I reconnected with a beloved therapist about two years ago and faced the fact that if I didn't do anything about it now, nothing would ever happen. I made a call to a general practitioner who specialized in weight loss.

My new physician gave me what might be called law and gospel. Bad stuff was just around the corner unless I tended to my weight. However, he would give me the tools and support to get it done.

So he did. For around eight months I ate nothing but protein and vegetables. Gradually I lost all the weight. And, literally right around Holy Week, I found what had been absent to me all those long years: my own spirit. Life.

We Believe the Body is Good
We are a people who believe that the body is good, not a curse. We are a people who believe, in fact, in the resurrection of that body to life everlasting. So it makes sense that when we tend to those good bodies, treat and feed them well, the spirit within thrives best.

People have noticed the weight loss. Those closest to me are glad, not only for the dramatic change in appearance, but grateful beyond words for the loved one who has come back to them. Wife. Mother. Daughter. Friend.

My weight loss has also had a dramatic impact on what is of deepest importance to me: my call. Truth be told, the weight got in the way of letting my light shine. Freed of anger and frustration over habits that did anything but give life, I am able to give more fully, freely, and truthfully of the gifts the Spirit has given me and called me to share. Gifts of love, leadership, music, discernment, communication, and care.

And now? I believe with all my heart that those who serve Christ's church would do well to enter some kind of therapeutic care, especially in these days we face as a church, especially as family life drifts into stress and crisis. And I believe that one of the best things we can do in the cause of leadership is to take care of our own bodies.

We might be convinced that we're pretty good with matters of the Spirit, which is all that matters. But no — we are not gnostic. We believe that God really and truly took on flesh in the Son. We believe, to quote Marty Haugen, the artist so many of us love, that it is not in "some heaven" that God works to give us life but "here in this place" (from "Gather Us In") — this very physical place, where hearts beat in bodies, where spirits feel in the same.

And, taking care of those bodies that will one day be resurrected? I’m convinced that ongoing act is a significant, but often overlooked, means through which the Spirit can lead the faithful toward and in that hope.

This piece was originally published in the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod’s January 2015 supplement to The Lutheran magazine.

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