Grace Note Reflections on the Christian Life
The Abundance of Enough
Diabetes Reminds Me Daily of Christ's Sufficiency
By Sara Zarr
March 2009, at the age of 38, I got the upsetting diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. "Upsetting" is too mild a word for what I felt at the time. But since diabetes is not terminal (at least, not any more terminal than life itself), I hesitate to use words like "devastating" or "catastrophic," though those are the words that best describe the effect the news had on me. Much to my doctor's discomfort, I wept bitterly in her office when my blood glucose test turned up the number 352 (a number over 140 is cause for concern). This was not pre-diabetes, or catching it early. This was full-blown disease, and I'd likely had it for years before diagnosis.
It's hard to claim those words — devastation, catastrophe — because in some ways Type 2 diabetes is a minor disease. It won't keep me from work, travel, or independence. And diabetes is so commonly mentioned in news stories about the so-called obesity epidemic and the health care crisis that if you didn't know any better, it would be easy to believe it's completely preventable. If only people had a little self-control, you might think. If only they understood the meaning of "enough."
Enough has been one of the central themes and challenges of my life, spiritual and practical, inherited and learned. My anxieties about enough began in childhood in an alcoholic family where we lacked enough money for clothes, food, and rent, and also enough of other things that make a home: attention, affection, emotional safety.
By genetics or grace or both, I've been spared inherited addiction to alcohol or drugs, but name anything else and chances are I've done it addictively or at least compulsively: eating, spending, playing video games, web surfing, relationships. I find myself swinging between all and nothing, never confident in where to rest, where to find enough. In January I declare I won't buy any clothes for 12 months; by March I've acquired a new wardrobe. I convince myself I can manage my life going online only an hour a day, but then that hour turns into four. I commit to dawn-hour quiet times in hopes of undoing months of spiritual neglect, but soon I'm hitting the snooze button again.
Experience and a good therapist have helped me understand that I need balance, that the middle — neither high nor low, up nor down, starving nor feasting — is a good place to be. I have gotten better at finding that place, yet nothing has made the need for enough as tangible as my diagnosis of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is essentially a disease of too much and not enough. Too much glucose in the blood. Not enough insulin being pumped by the pancreas to deal with it. That's a simplification, of course, but the point is that our bodies are exquisitely fine-tuned for balance. Uncontrolled, the particular imbalance of insulin and glucose can bring about a frightening laundry list of complications, including but not limited to heart disease, neuropathy, eye damage, hypertension, kidney disease, and stroke. Yet if you take insulin and overcorrect, you can go into shock or even a coma.
Even in my 20s, I knew my combination of DNA, body type, and behavior put me at risk for diabetes. I'd begun to do what I could to prevent or delay the onset about 10 years ago. I lost 50 pounds. I made daily exercise a priority. I took nutritional, psychological, and spiritual steps to address my eating disorder. Yet none of my efforts at being good — therapy, hours at the gym, careful dieting — were enough to slow down the sand pouring through my particular genetic hourglass.
"In the Lord's Prayer, Christ taught us to ask for our daily bread, not a stockpile of it."
There is one good thing about this disease: Diabetes provides a handy and constant metaphor for what's awry in my soul. My acts of dietary righteousness and fitness rule-following were not enough to make my diabetes go away. In the same way, the hours logged on the Christian treadmill — striving for perfect quiet times, taking a nightly inventory of the day's behavior and promising to do better, trying to show up at church with a good attitude — are not enough to beat back what is in my spiritual DNA, enough to avoid admitting that my sins are chronic and terminal and need the intervention of God's grace.
One version of the Anima Christi, a 14th-century Catholic prayer, includes this line: "Jesus, with you by my side, enough has been given."
I meditate on this prayer, meditate on enough and what it means and what it might look like. I have not come to conclusions. On the contrary, I've stumbled into what feels like a tension between enough and the language of abundance that flows throughout Scripture. Isaiah 55 calls us to "buy wine and milk without money and without price," to delight ourselves in rich food. In John 10, Jesus tells us he's come that we "may have life, and have it abundantly."
With all of the measuring, weighing, meal scheduling, and carb counting that I have to do every day to keep my blood sugar levels in balance, not to mention the balance I'm supposed to have in areas of my life that have nothing to do with diabetes — control over my tongue, my thoughts, over my time, my vocation, my money — how do I make emotional and spiritual space for stepping out of the boat on a zealous whim? For breaking a jar of expensive perfume over the feet of Christ? For joy?
Joy seems like something that lives on the other side of the pendulum from control, from enough. It seems like the gospel says there's an important place for excess, lavishness, feasting. God's love is not portioned out; it is poured. Forgiveness is not weighed and measured; it stretches to the ends of our ability to comprehend it.
And yet manna (which I'm pretty sure would raise my blood sugar) was provided in quantities of exactly enough. If the Israelites took too much, it rotted. In the Lord's Prayer, Christ taught us to ask for our daily bread, not a stockpile of it. Store up treasures in heaven, Jesus said, not in your garage. Enough seems to have as much importance as abundance.
What I've come to believe is that they are interdependent concepts: Enough can be a condition of abundance. Without the control, moderation, and ritual of spiritual discipline, it's difficult to hear the Holy Spirit's calling about where and how to take hold of abundance and joy, what to feast on and what to let go. Without my blood-glucose meter and my food journal and my medication and my exercise routine, I would be completely in the dark about what's happening in my body, and vulnerable to living in fear of the worst.
As I follow my daily routines, I do so in the hope that they will contribute to a long and healthy life, which will in turn provide me with the freedom to do and see all of the things I hope to before I die, to experience joy, to feast on the knowledge that Christ is — truly and finally and in the only way that matters — enough.
Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of three novels for young adults: Story of a Girl (Little, Brown, 2007), a National Book Award Finalist; Sweethearts (Little, Brown, 2008), a Cybil Award Finalist; and Once Was Lost (Little, Brown, 2009), a Kirkus Best Book of 2009. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Image, Hunger Mountain, and several anthologies. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, and at www.sarazarr.com.