When I became a mom, a crib entered my home. A changing table. A rocking chair and a boppy.
And a Goddess in my living room.
The Goddess of Health.
Up until that time, she had not been very important to me. I drank soda, I ate what I wanted, I exercised sporadically, I stayed amazingly thin. But now that I was responsible for a little person, the Goddess of Health had space in my life. I wanted very much to please her. I wanted to win her favor for the sake of my little son.
And others assured me that if I followed her rules, I could expect her blessing.
At first it wasn’t hard. I took my vitamins and made a few dietary changes. When it was time for my son to start solid foods, I followed a specific schedule. I started looking at ingredients before I put food in my shopping cart.
High fructose corn syrup displeased her. So did anything artificial. And for my sacrifices, she rewarded me with a healthy little boy. Definitely worth the effort.
Then her rules became more complicated. Things that used to be okay weren’t okay anymore. Maybe the packaged food was advertised as healthy—but what was really healthy was just to make my own. Organic was better. More fruits. More vegetables.
Then her rules became confusing. Was grinding my own wheat to make bread really healthy? No, that wasn’t enough, because what if the wheat was GMO? And should I even be eating wheat at all? Wasn’t paleo better?
When any of us got sick, which was not very often, I learned what sacrifices would earn her favor back. More vitamins. More herbs. She was particularly fond of garlic. Then she started requiring essential oils.
All this was getting expensive. But my son, and now a daughter, too, were healthy, so it was worth it.
One winter I wrote a blog post about keeping your kids from getting sick. It was full of great ideas. If I followed them all, I would appease the Goddess of Health, who would then keep sickness far from my home. That winter it worked so well for me.
The next year I reposted the article—I think I added a few new rules I had learned in the interim. And then my kids got sick.
Not badly sick, thankfully. There was no fear, just a whole lot of crazy. They got the stomach bug that would not go away. For almost eight weeks, it seemed like someone in the house was always throwing up. We no longer went anywhere together, because someone needed to stay home with whichever child was sick right then.
I posted my complaints on Facebook and got a lot of advice. How could I win the Goddess’s favor back so she would heal my children?
Probiotics, someone said. But I was already doing it.
Essential oils, someone else recommended. Ginger? Peppermint? Special immune blends? I was already doing it.
Someone recommended that I sacrifice to the Goddess all dairy and sugar. I tried to take it with a smile. They must not know how good our diet already was. I had sacrificed already! She should be happy!
Because I was becoming resentful. That Goddess of Health? I was mad at her.
I was mad because I had done her thing, I had followed her rules, I had bought her stuff. And when it got harder, I had stayed the course. And when it got confusing, I had kept researching and tried to find amidst the conflicting voices online what would really make her happy.
I had done everything right! I had held up my end of the deal. And she had not blessed me. And I didn’t have time to take it up with her because one of my kids was puking in the hallway.
It was my anger that made me realize I had that Goddess in the living room.
It was my resentment that showed me that when I followed her rules, I had expected her blessing. I had earned good health, and I was not happy that she had not come through. Why was judgment coming? Hadn’t I appeased her with all my sacrifices?
It took me a few weeks of vomit to realize the Goddess had to go. For one thing, she wasn’t working. I was tired of following her rules when the guaranteed results hadn’t happened.
This didn’t mean we would spend the rest of our lives eating at McDonalds. I knew that a lot—maybe even all—of what I had been doing made sense. I wanted to care well for myself and my family. I wanted to do what I could to help us be healthy.
But I no longer felt that I’d earned it. I no longer believed that everything had a clear cause and effect and that if we did enough right things, we would be healthy.
Because we live in a broken, fallen, twisted world. No matter what we do, our bodies are deteriorating, and ultimately, health fails us all.
I realized following the Goddess of Health had caused me to judge others. Are they sick all the time because they’re not eating well?
It’s true that actions have consequences, and that healthy choices truly help. But it’s also true that sometimes those who make the healthiest choices get really sick. And we don’t know why.
I reminded myself of all this when my son got a cavity. I felt like taking it up with the Goddess of Health again. (We hardly eat any sugar! We brush his teeth twice a day! With homemade toothpaste! And other people are saying they never get a cavity when they follow all these rules, so why, why us?)
This whole blog post has actually been in my mind for several months, before 2016 ever happened. And I am glad I threw out the Goddess before this year began.
I started 2016 all excited about being healthy. I was going to drop that baby weight and fight back that anxiety. I jumped into the Whole 30 paleo diet and posted weekly updates on this blog because I was so excited about how well I was eating, how great I was feeling, the weight I was losing.
Then I woke up in late January with pain in my foot that after four months has not gone away. And despite the fact that now my practices are healthier than ever and I’m taking all the powerful herbs that are supposed to kick Lyme to the curb, I’m afraid I’ll be in pain for the rest of my life.
So if I still had that Goddess of Health, I’d be furious at her. Forget eight weeks of vomiting—okay, that’s traumatic for a mom, but that is nothing compared to four months of chronic pain that I fear will never go away. I did all the right things! I would yell at her. I’m supposed to be young and healthy and feeling great! And there are people who don’t give a rip about their health and have never heard the word “paleo” and are running past me while I limp along. Really? Really?!
Because that is not how it works. There is no Goddess of Health except as a construct of our messed up minds, wanting to be in control. To earn favor by following rules. To judge others who don’t measure up.
There is no Goddess of Health. And I’m grateful because her demands are exhausting and she doesn’t make good on her promises. But there is a God who is sovereign over all suffering and sickness, who works pain for good purposes that are hard to understand when you’re in the middle of it.
There is a God who asks us to honor our bodies as temples of His Spirit. But He doesn’t give us burdensome rules about how to do that. He tells us His Kingdom isn’t about eating and drinking, but about righteousness and peace and joy in the Spirit (Romans 14:17). And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
He tells us to do right without expectations. Following rules can be all about gaining control and managing consequences. But following the Way Who is a Person, Who is Jesus, can mean walking through dark, scary places, where you wonder if you’ve made a wrong turn, but His Presence says keep following because He is there.
Keep following, even when it doesn’t make sense, one step at a time.