IVP - Strangely Dim - Forgoing and Letting Go

February 17, 2010

Forgoing and Letting Go

A post from five years ago. Something to think about on Ash Wednesday.

For three years I dutifully woke up early every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (unless I could come up with a decent excuse) to drive to a local gym. For that same three years, whenever I was asked by machine or muscle-bound consultant what my goals are for working out, I replied "Losing weight" or "Burning fat." And for that same three years I lost no weight and, so far as anyone can tell, burned no fat.

Then, for two weeks, I reluctantly cut carbohydrates and sugars out of my diet. No Oreos, no Nutter Butters. No ice cream, no cream cheese. No instant oatmeal, no sugary cereal. I lost sixteen pounds and found three more holes in my belt.

I share this story reluctantly, in part because I don't want to be taken as poo-pooing exercise or endorsing a particular diet. But I find it interesting that I so willingly embraced a major lifestyle change--joining a gym and working out regularly--that yielded none of my desired results, while for three years fighting hard against a discipline that ultimately delivered beyond my best hopes.

My best guess is that for me, and I suspect for most Americans and perhaps most humans, it's easier to take something on than to let something go.

I think it's fair to say that I live in a scavenger culture. In fact, I scavenge for a living. I do a fair bit of editorial acquisitions, which means I go out looking for books for IVP to publish. In that respect I'm the poster boy for scavenging. My business card shouldn't say "Editor," it should say "Book Scavenger."

We start scavenging for fun when we're little kids: "Here's a list of worthless junk; whoever is able to come up with the most junk from the list wins even more junk!" Suggest to me that I should go get something--an iPod, for example, or an iPod Touch, or an iPhone--and odds are I'll rearrange my life to fit it in. It works in other ways too: I know of a magazine that markets the simple life through page after page of high-end purchasing opportunities--spend $500 to be more simple, the logic goes. I've bought books and videos on working out, step aerobic equipment, dumbells and gym bags, and even a stairmaster in my drive to drop a few pounds. If there's something we want to happen, chances are there's something we can acquire to make it happen.

But ask us to forgo something--dessert, perhaps, or political power or 10 percent of our income--and we're distressed. Saying no is infinitely more challenging than saying yes.

Something supremely self-evident evades the understanding of a scavenger culture: Sometimes scavenging is the enemy of desire. Sometimes what we need is found not in groping after but in letting go.

Jesus saw that in a rich young ruler who had everything but wanted more--assurances that he was on the right track, that when he died he'd go to heaven, that he could have everything and still be a good person. Jesus confronted his consumerism head on: "One thing you still lack," he said, in language that sets any scavenger to drooling. "Go, sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. Then come, follow me."

No stuff. No money. No home. Just Jesus. Yikes. I need some comfort food--fast. If anybody needs me, I'll be hiding out at the gym, eating Nutter Butters and "burning fat."

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at February 17, 2010 8:42 AM Bookmark and Share


Wow! True words. Thank you.

Comment by: Debbie Page at February 17, 2010 9:52 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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