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The Difficulties of Dieting as a Clue to the Nature of the Universe and the Quest for Meaning

Anyone who has ever tried to diet has probably at some point looked down at the scales in frustration and asked that eternal question: Why is it so hard to lose weight? That quickly leads to other, equally riveting and frustrating mysteries. Why should the tasty foods be the fattening ones? Why does exercise have to be so hard? Why can’t chocolate be a belly-slimming superfood?

But the problem doesn’t end with food. We readily find that all the good things in life take a lot of work and effort. Knowledge and wisdom require study. Virtue demands patience. Talent takes effort. And being good requires us to bite back a lot of mean things we would really like to say and doing a lot of things we would rather not do.

If this wasn’t bad enough, all the things in life we shouldn’t do: the things that make us fat, that dumb us down, that make us jerks to everyone around us, are the easiest things in the world to do. Nothing requires less effort than sitting on the couch eating a box of double-chocolate fudge ice cream, as our brain atrophies on another dose of reality T.V., and we tell anyone who slightly irritates us what is wrong with them and where they can stick it. Really, it requires no work at all. In fact, there is a certain pleasure that goes along with it.

But to be healthy, wise, virtuous and strong...you’re talking about some work now.

Some might look at this situation and see God as a cosmic jester. He must be having a great laugh on us. He makes being bad easy, and even fun, makes good difficult, then tells us we can’t do those easy, fun, but bad things. Then He sits back and watches the mayhem ensue as we laugh eating a second serving of cake, then cry as we struggle to fit into the pants we bought just last month.

Maybe not, but it frustrates us all the same. Many an earnest man has asked in honesty why what is called bad is so easy and impulsive. And it really does seem bitterly ironic when you sit back and think about it. It’s almost as if God hates to see us enjoy ourselves.

Or maybe something deeper is going on, and the fact that virtue is difficult and vice is easy is an important clue to the nature of the universe.

What it tells us is that life - and I mean the good and right life - takes work. It’s not something that happens automatically. Life is not something you can accomplish without putting thought and deliberation into it. Life is not done for us. And just being born, though you are biologically alive, doesn’t mean you have life.

We are meant to take hold of life, purposefully and sometimes even forcefully. We are meant to fight for life, to struggle for it, to fend off the enemies and forces that seek to take life from us and from others. For by this struggle we make our life our own. Even as we know that all that we are is given to us by one greater than ourselves, by entering into that struggle for our own life, we take accountability for it and make it possible for that life to increase in us. God does not want us to live automatically. In order to force us to take up the deliberate life, to make us choose between the wide and the narrow path, God has decreed this simple fact of the universe - death is easy and life is hard.

Death is easy.

Life is hard.

The way of life is not easy because the choice is meant to be made deliberately, day by day and moment by moment. If good required nothing more from us than to sit back and satisfy all our infantile urges, then we would all be saints. And what good would a sainthood be if it took no effort from us at all?

No, the good road is the hard road. Anyone who comes promising you the soft and easy life, the life of no effort or struggle, is one who would rob you of your destiny and drain you of life. He is an enemy to be avoided at all costs.
If this is so, if the difficult path is also the path to life, then it is also the path that leads to a sense of fulfillment and peace. We have grown so accustomed to ease and comfort in this age, that we have also grown to despise and fear discomfort of any type. This aversion to all forms of unease has even grown to cultivate an idea that suffering somehow equals a meaningless life. The only good life we can envision is one of wealth, splendor, entertainment and largesse, where no hint of pain or distress ever enters into our happy paradise. When we lose even the most minor of our comforts: hot water, internet access, cheap cable, we act as if the world is ending. And when we hear of deep tragedy and loss from the other side of the world, we cry out at the injustice of nature and wonder aloud if there really is a God.

Pain and suffering do not rob life of meaning. It is within pain and suffering that meaning can take place. Of course, there is also the pain that destroys. There is the suffering that does not relent, but wears down the will of the soul. This is not something we have to seek out, if we choose the good life then the way will be beset by struggle and difficulty. As Kahlil Gibran said, “No one can reach the dawn save by the path of the night.”

Only in struggle can we overcome. Only in difficulty can we triumph. And it is hardship that builds up the strength of our soul. Metal is hardened by fire, gold refined in the crucible, and the children of men shaped in the forge of life.

So the next time you find yourself wishing for that diet pill you can take and eat whatever you want and still look like a model, remember, death is easy. Life is hard. Bless that ache in your legs as you trudge out one more mile. Be happy when you have to tighten up the checkbook to make it to the next month. Rejoice when you must push your mind to its limits in order to grasp something new. When you understand that difficulty is not only an essential part of life, it is the pathway of life, it becomes easier just by understanding. Maybe not easier, but bearable. And even more importantly, we become teachable and malleable. And all those things that God wants us to learn, that final shape he wants to form us into, begins to emerge. We may even find that the life of struggle isn’t so terrible anymore, even though it is difficult. We may even discover a certain beauty and poetry that exists within pain and hardship.

Resist the impulse to take the path of least resistance, simply because it is the easiest way to go. One day you want to look back on all your trials and find that through them your wisdom, courage, faith, self-control, love and hope, all that began as seeds within your young soul, blossomed into the full bloom of virtue and grew into a life unlike any other.

Cross-posted on Goodreads.

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