The Donut Metaphor


Last week I talked about the barriers that exist when it comes to living in the Spirit. One of those barriers is sometimes not knowing our values or not being clear about them. Here’s a metaphor I like to use to illustrate this point:

Let’s say I have a goal, I want to lose ten pounds. And maybe I really want to lose it, I have a wedding coming up or some summer shorts I want to fit into. But then you come into my office and bring me my favorite donut (substitute your favorite food!) Here’s the thing: the donut is guaranteed. It looks good, it smells good, I know it’s going to taste good. Plus it’s right here – immediate gratification! There’s only one reason I would ever refuse the donut in favor of my weight loss goal – and that is if my long term weight loss goal is so “tasty”, so available, so immediate that it’s like choosing between two available treats – and then I can choose the healthier option.

A lot of my work with clients involves clarifying their values. If you aren’t clear on what you’re moving toward, you’re going to take your eyes off your goals every time – in fact, it’s hard to even make and clarify goals if you don’t have a value system to base them on. So if, for instance, kindness isn’t a value that is clear and salient to you, you’re going to go for that pleasure that comes with lobbing a word grenade at someone in an argument – every time. Often when I ask a client “what are your values?” there’s a long pause and then they say something like “to be kind?” or “to love people?” That’s like asking an entrepreneur what his business vision is and having him say “um, to make money?” If you don’t have a very clear and significant vision of where you’re going, how would you ever hope to get there?

Sadly, in my experience I’ve found that we in the Church are no better at having defined values than anyone else – and we should, shouldn’t we? For an entire body of people whose lifestyle is based around the values laid down by the One we claim to follow – Jesus – we sure have a pretty vague sense of where we’re going sometimes. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians (3:13-14), “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (NIV) Paul knew that it’s better to go toward something than away from something.

If you find yourself constantly doing something you wish you wouldn’t do (like lying, watching porn or eating) – or not doing something you know you should do (working out, eating healthy), you might have a problem with vague values. You may be getting distracted by the immediate tug because what you really value is too far out of reach, too hypothetical. What you don’t want to do is readily available, and what you want to do is too much of a “Sunday sermon” and not enough of a daily reality.

 What are your values? Were they given to you by your parents or your church, or are they yours? Can you taste them? Or do you take the donut every time?

PRACTICE: If you feel like you do not have very well defined values or a very clear “life vision”, take some time in a quiet place to imagine that it’s years from now, and you have passed away. Somehow, you have the opportunity to be present at your own funeral and hear the words your loved ones are speaking. If you have lived your ideal life, what are they saying? What kinds of examples are they giving of how you lived this out? If you spend enough time really visualizing this scenario, you will have a better idea about what your values really are, and how that would look right now, today.

*Read my comment(s). My dear friend has agreed to give her non-therapist view of my crazy ideas to get the conversation started.  Jump in!*

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5 thoughts on “The Donut Metaphor

  1. This passage in Philippians is one of my all time favorites! What’s important to me? What am I moving toward? Which direction am I headed?

    I will share how I applied this verse in my own life, pressed on, and moved forward. I love the idea of the goal being more important than anything else. Getting high was the goal. It was the most important thing. I loved my family, but did I love them more than getting high, more than anything else? I sure thought I did.

    I tried to quit drinking for 29 years, but I would get stuck in the past. The goal was too far out of reach. I was always looking behind and then tripping all over myself in the present. I would take my eyes off the goal. I became so focused on the many ways I failed, that living in the present would become unbearable. I found myself repeatedly “Eating the donut.”

    At some point, I realized no matter how much I wished things were different, I could not change the past, what I had done, or the choices I made. The only hope I had at being a better me was to focus all my energies on this one thing. The best chance I had for being a better wife, mother, friend, sister etc. was to forget what was behind and look forward to what was ahead.

    Looking too far ahead tripped me up as well. It was impossible to think I would never drink alcohol again. When I focused on that, I’d end up drinking again. Victory came in focusing on what was right in front of me.

    It is impossible to forget. What I have learned is, the past doesn’t have to influence me today. It no longer controls me. It doesn’t affect me, if I keep my eyes on the prize, on the goal. The goal became the most important thing.

    I am always moving in one direction or another. I am moving away from or toward drinking every single day. I can endure pretty much anything for a day, so living just for today has become the goal.

  2. sometimes I get stuck just figuring out how to define the goal into actionable baby steps. I end up with goals that are too broad. But I agree with the baby steps idea. When I’ve been really stressed in the past, I break it down to, ‘I can make it to lunch’ ‘ I can make I through this call’ or I can make it through this day.’ And it becomes easier than the dread and burden of how will I make it to the end. Thanks Lisa

  3. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” He wants us moving forward, not back, yet He also doesn’t want to overwhelm us with all that surrounds us (life!) If we trust Him, in the dark of night in the forest, His Word will light JUST A STEP OR TWO IN FRONT OF US.
    But it takes focus to not trip up, especially when running (Philipians passage). Just wave at the donuts as you run by, toward the BEST(not just the good).

    That part about what we want people to say about us when we die…?
    Well, that’s an area I’m working on …

  4. I love the comment about the light lighting up the path that is directly ahead of us. That is so true and appropriate as an analogy for life. God doesn’t call us to act or react based on what will happen a day, a week, or years from now. He requires us to live daily in the Spirit, relying on Him, doing what He has called us to do. That’s all we can do.

    When my sister died of breast cancer in 2008, at age 43, part of me was frustrated because of all that she did not get to do in her life. I wished we had had more time together, I wished I had verbalized more, I wished that she didn’t have to suffer so much in this life. I wished that she had more time to help people and to do the things she always wanted to do. But when it was all said and done, at her service, I saw the impact that she had on people and the fruit of her life being celebrated. She did what she could in the time that He had given her.

    We don’t know what the future holds…either for life or death, so we need to live according to His plan and His Word. And while we might eat a donut now and again, more importantly, it’s striving towards the end goal and getting there one step at a time. It’s doing what you all are saying. Move towards the goal, one step at a time.

    Two verses come to mind….the first being the one on my sister’s headstone, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. (2 Tim. 2:7) What better legacy can we, with our life, leave to our children, grandchildren and to those we know? I like how “keeping the faith” comes last in the verse. We don’t keep the faith and then finish the race. God knows that we will fail along the way. We will eat the donut. But we keep fighting the fight, we keep racing, one step at a time (not necessarily running, either, and in the end, we keep the faith.

    Another analogy from my sister’s life. Metastisized cancer in her leg led to it’s amputation. The day she got home from the hospital, two days later, she needed to go upstairs to her bedroom. She didn’t want any help. Using her arms and body to move, she hauled herself backwards up the stairs to her bedroom, literally one step at a time. Fighting for each step she took, she reached her goal thru determination and focus on that step. And, of course, by the strength of God.

    The other verse that comes to mind is Micah 6:8. What does the Lord require of me? To do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with my God!

    If only I could accomplish that each day, and not let this world or my Self (my wants, desires, dreams and those pesky donuts) get in the way!

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