Inflammation: What Are You Feeding a Bitter Heart?
Feb 03, 2019 06:12AM
By Bonnie Lyn Smith
As I write this, I just finished making a batch of turmeric-orange gummies. We are fighting inflammation in our house, among other issues, and part of our battle strategy is to go paleo-keto-anti-inflammatory with our diet. When carbohydrates and refined sugars have been your constant companion, this is a welcome and necessary change, but it is also a dramatic one.
As it turns out, turmeric has amazing anti-inflammatory properties. The ingredients of these gummy treats include freshly squeezed orange juice, coconut water, grass-fed beef gelatin, turmeric, and ginger. The beef gelatin is an attempt to take in bioavailable animal protein every chance we get.
Our dietary change journey began 12 years ago when my youngest son had life-threatening food allergies as a toddler and into his elementary school years. I cooked from scratch, avoided cross-contamination like a fiend, and just about checked under the fingernails for peanut butter of anyone entering my home or coming near to him.
Fast-forward to 2015 when my father fought his last cancer battle, and the voices in my head would not stop shouting about the role of refined sugars in feeding pathogens. My oldest son, almost 16 at the time, went organic and whole-foods on me. Mealtime was a nonstop frustration to me, since I loved all things pasta, instant, and already-prepared.
Despite my resistance, eventually he wore me down with his example-setting diet. I bought an electric pressure cooker, grew a garden, and started removing sugar one recipe at a time.
Enter 2016, when my daughter’s health started to tank. I didn't know it at the time, but food was quickly becoming her enemy, wrecking her gut biome, feeding the bad bacteria there, disrupting hormones and neurotransmitters, and fogging her brain. What I thought was ADD and its common comorbidities turned out to be a war within her body on several fronts. Malabsorption was making it impossible for her body to recognize protein and take it in. I can’t bring myself to list the number of specialists, medicines, supplements, and copays this still involves. I won’t tell all the parts of her story because it's hers to tell. Suffice it to say, it was undeniable that diet had to change. But it had to be sustainable, right? While supplements, enzymes, and probiotics gave her a restart, we had to educate ourselves on what was and what was not going to help us carry this out long-term.
What we feed our bodies is either going to help us or lead to our decline, right?
And when we offer our bodies false calories, substitutes for real nourishment, what can happen?
Well, it turns out inflammation is a risk.
Okay, then, how about our minds and hearts? What inflames us when we aren’t being careful about our intake?
The Bible has more than a few points to make about this.
James 3:14-18, ESV
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Hmmm. Forgive the comparison, but that sounds so much like the war between good and bad bacteria that can take place in our gut biome. It’s truly the difference between disorder and peace.
James says (and fun fact: he was the brother of Jesus) that any jealousy or selfish ambition we have is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.
Um, what now? Why?
It’s simply a matter of real estate. If jealousy and selfish ambition have inflamed us, there is no room for sowing peace. And when we are full of hate, anger, and negative feelings, the inflammation crowds out any space for mercy and good fruits.
How does James contrast this? He said that the negative feelings are earthly, but the wisdom that comes from above (heavenly) is: pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, merciful, impartial, sincere.
Did you catch “open to reason”? Let’s not miss that. It means that when we are inflamed with bitterness, we cannot think clearly…much like the brain fog that often accompanies inflammation in the physical body. In pain, our thinking is restricted. We are focused on the negative.
When peace reigns in our hearts and when we choose to dwell on that, we put the burning fires of ugly thinking out. And once again we are rational and able to see through the lenses of Christ’s love.
I had many things aflame in my life over the past year. Maybe for you some of these ring true, or maybe you could fill in the blanks with your own list:
- College admissions and decision stress for one child
- Child leaving home
- Health crises on several levels
- Ministry snafus
- Relationship upsets
- Disregulated expectations
With so many areas of life going wonky, it is easy to see where bitterness can take hold and push out the blessings God wants us to recognize.
It requires more than just rescue. God has already done that for us by sending Jesus to save us from our sins.
It expects our action and participation. It is one thing to know about the peace Christ offers. It is a daily discipline to regularly choose it. I don’t know about you, but some days I do not get that part right.
How do we do this? The author of Hebrews tells us it is in striving for holiness.
Hebrews 12:14-15, ESV
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.
Notice that we agree with and partner with Christ in this. He walks alongside us while we daily say: Examine me. Find the inflammation within me. Help me quiet the fires with your truth, peace, joy, and love.
Psalm 51:10, ESV
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Also notice in the Hebrews passage that we are to guard against a root of bitterness because it can spread like wildfire and corrupt all that is around it.
This is true of the health battle in my home as well. We can do all we can to reset health to a balanced state with enzymes, supplements, probiotics, and eating right, but if we don’t sustain those changes, if we go back to wreaking havoc with the wrong kind of intake, it corrupts the gut—causing damage to more than just digestion. It affects the endocrine system, mental health, cognitive ability, adrenal function, and several organ processes.
That is why it is so important to keep talking to God, reading what He has to say in His Word, the Bible, and listening to the Holy Spirit to guide us. We can’t achieve that peace if bitterness is our go-to. We have to strive for holiness with God’s help.
How can you reduce inflamed feelings in your life and relationships right now? Where do you need more of His peace and holiness?
I am right there with you—but more importantly—so is He, ready to offer His help and safe counsel.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
She is the author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day and the founder and editor-in-chief of Ground Truth Press, a book publishing company.