Thursday, September 13, 2007

The biggest loser and God.

The biggest loser and God.

I love the show “Biggest Loser.” If you’ve never seen it or are simply one of those people that like to say, “I don’t even own a television” to anyone that will listen, here’s the premise: NBC takes 18 overweight people and moves them to a ranch with three personal trainers. Over a series of weeks, the contestants lose absurd amounts of weight and gain massive amounts of confidence while competing against each other for the right to stay on the show and a $250,000 cash prize.

It sounds like a dumb show because it is. Most of the people are pretty whiny at first; the personal trainers are constantly uttering tired platitudes that seem like lyrics to the songs that play in the background of sports montages in movies from the 80s e.g. “Take it to the limit! Yeah!” and the host until this season was the somewhat unfunny and ironically overweight Caroline Rhea. But I’d still watch a thousand episodes if they had them on.

Here’s why: Redemption is a beautiful thing to see. Watching someone, even a stranger, radically change their life is amazing. Visibly seeing someone drop 150 pounds, essentially saving their life and preventing premature death is pretty breathtaking. I find myself cheering them on, concerned about their progress. I watch the tapes of their kids saying heartbreaking things like “I love my daddy just the way he is but I don’t want him to die,” and I hear myself saying, “come on, you can do it.”

My favorite two parts of the show are at the end of the season. The first is the moment when each contestant walks through the door of their house and reveals the results of the experience to their loved ones. Husbands and wives just break down in tears upon realizing that someone lost has now been found. The person they knew has been rescued from deep within a mountain of weight and shame and hurt. The second best part is when they make the contestants stand next to cardboard cutouts of what they used to look like. The comparison is beyond “Before and After.” Inevitably, the contestant will stare at the cutout and say, “I’m not that person. I’m not that person anymore.”

The bottom line is I love witnessing transformation and redemption. I started thinking today in the car, what if God felt the same way? What if he liked watching my life change as much as I liked watching the Biggest Loser?

I used to think I wasn’t good enough for God, that I had to personally take care of my transformation in the shadows so that he wouldn’t see how morally out of shape I was. That unless I came home skinny, having dropped the weight of bad decisions, I couldn’t be near him. But what if all that was wrong? What if by trying to transform myself, I’m not only setting myself up for failure, I’m denying him access to his favorite thing on the planet, redemption?

The Prodigal Son story certainly supports this idea. The son returns to the farm fat with mistakes, the stink of the pigpen and the air of prostitutes still heavy on his skin. The father doesn’t say “come back after you’ve transformed yourself,” he throws a party. He celebrates. He shoots fireworks off and reacts like someone that has found their favorite thing. I’ve never thrown a Biggest Loser party. I don’t really even talk about the show with friends because I want them to think I spend my free time reading books or something equally intellectual sounding. Maybe God’s love of transformation makes mine look small and insignificant.

There’s a beautiful point of breakdown to this metaphor though. For I am but a spectator of The Biggest Loser, God is a participant of life transformation. I anonymously encourage the hard work the contestants put in. God personally empowers the difficult work of heart renewal. My support of the show is superficial. God’s support of life change is the very substance that makes it possible. He is the power, the deep pool of strength and energy we can all tap into. He is the one, that regardless of any personal trainer’s platitudes or NBC cash prize, keeps me going through the dark and sometimes difficult task of growing into the person I was born to be.

I think culturally speaking, there’s a part of each of us that wants to watch redemption. The popularity of shows like Biggest Loser and Extreme Home Makeover is proof of that. We enjoy seeing people go from the pit to the podium and that makes sense to me, because I like transformation too. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that God doesn’t just like transformation, he lives for it.

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