Thursday, May 11, 2023

Fake Fuel

One of the more recent trends in distance running, or any endurance sport, is the use of gel packs and other "energy" supplements. We're not talking about mega-doses of caffeine like you might normally think about when you hear the word "energy," but rather, we're talking about "supplements" that claim to provide large doses of carbs or proteins or electrolytes or any of the other things your body typically processes for energy out of the foods you eat. 

In fact, even outside of racing, there is a huge market for supplements - an entire sector of the business community that exists to convince you that you do not receive the nutrients you need from the foods that you eat (which is, ironically, because the food industries have overprocessed everything in the first place and filled it with junk that has no purpose except to make it shelf-stable for longer than it was ever intended to be), so you need extra product packed with a punch just to make your body "normally" healthy.

The body, of course, has its own way of helping you know what you're diet is missing: it's called a craving. When you're low on protein, you crave meat. When you're low on carbs, you crave grains. (In an overprocessed society, you crave sugars, too.) But we live in a society that's been taught that cravings are based on nothing more than taste or boredom, and that it's better to "conquer" your cravings than to listen to them. 

So we have gel packs. That way, you can ensure that your body is "getting what it needs." 

But our bodies were not designed to process gel packs. They weren't. Our bodies were meant to digest food and to divvy up the components that are found therein to make the kinds of energies and fat stores and building blocks that the body needs to thrive. Your body gets more out of separating the components and finding what it needs than it does from just being "fed" what you think you're missing. The stuff you're looking for is more valuable when your body picks it apart from the other things than it is by itself. It is a necessary interplay. 

You can't just throw a bunch of ingredients into a gel pack and trust that the body knows what to do with that. Just like with many of the other over-the-counter supplements we buy, what we're really putting into our bodies, to quote a tv show I particularly enjoy, are "the ingredients for really expensive urine." Our bodies simply don't process synthetic products the way they are designed to process natural ones. So it doesn't matter what's in the gel pack; it matters how much of what's in there can get into your system. 

And the answer is: very, very little of it. The biggest effect these synthetic supplements have is the placebo effect - we feel better about ourselves for giving ourselves "fuel," even if what we're really doing is pumping gas next to the car. 

This is a big problem in our spiritual lives, too.

We live in a world of constant stimulation and easy access to all kinds of information. At the touch of a button, usually a button that we keep in our pockets all the time, we can listen to any number of other persons tell us about God. We can listen to preachers, singers, writers, friends, strangers, neighbors, "experts," academics, whoever tell us about the Bible and what certain passages mean and how God loves us and so much other stuff. 

What happens is that too many Christians are trying to substitute the wisdom and "authority" of others for a personal faith borne out of personal study, reflection, prayer, and experience. We're trying to create little gel packs of faith, little things we can throw into our hearts when we think we need them and make ourselves, somehow, stronger. Strong enough, at least, for our race. 

It's why we fill our houses with verses taken out of context and framed for the walls or embroidered for the pillows. There's just something about being able to look over and seeing, "I know the plans I have for you." 

But the truth is that this verse doesn't make any sense to the human soul, any real sense, unless you understand Babylon. And you don't understand Babylon by throwing a gel pack at it when it gets close. 

Just like our bodies, our faith can't run on substitutes. It's not built to process them in any meaningful way. That's why so many struggle with the faith and eventually lose it; they never had it to begin with. They weren't feeding themselves to grow. They were trying to take shortcuts that, at best, sound trendy and give them enough to look like they know what they're talking about. 

But just like real food, there's just no substitute for real faith. Doing the work ourselves - praying, reading the Bible, going to church, asking questions, wrestling in the dark, crying out from the depths, shouting from the rooftops - is the only thing that gives us what we need for our faith to truly thrive. 

Time to eat some real food. 

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