I need a substitute for a brownie.

I’ve found the secret to maintaining a healthy food lifestyle: identifying the unhealthy foods I struggle to give up and exchanging them for healthy substitutes. Foods like fried okra, macaroni and cheese, cornbread dressing, and brownies. Tell me I can’t have those on your healthy eating program and I’m looking for someone else’s program.

I don’t mind substitutes. It’s deprivation I loathe. Doing without the things I love, like macaroni and cheese, leaves a void in me that needs filling, preferably with something cheesy. Voids are unnatural. They demand to be filled, and if we’re not careful about intentionally filling our void with a healthy substitute, those voids will be filled with something else perhaps not so healthy.

Countless times I’ve denied myself a Snickers Bar, only to find myself a short time later standing at the vending machine with an Almond Joy in my hand. Substitute? Yes. Healthy? Hmmm… That led to the realization that not only do I need a substitute, I have to make the exchange the moment I recognize my void. Almond Joys rush in where Snickers aren’t allowed.

My unhealthy food cravings have led to years of searching for healthy substitutes, or “exchanges” as I call them. You’d be surprised how many good exchanges you can find for your favorite-but-unhealthy comfort foods. Fried okra? Indeed! Macaroni and cheese? You’d better believe it. Cornbread dressing? Ahem… might I say that I developed my own exchange recipe and the flavor is spot on? (Pause to take a bow.) So, my healthy eating advice to you is this: identify your go-to unhealthy foods and find exchanges for every one of them.

If you simply deny yourself, you’ve created a void.

What is it about a void? I was curious, so I did a little online research and I discovered something called “horror vacui.” If you took physics, which I did not, you may be familiar with this postulate by Aristotle. It simply means “nature abhors a vacuum”. According to Aristotle, a vacuum or a void will not exist in nature because the surrounding material would immediately fill it. Aristotle must have eaten Almond Joys.

Some experts say that human nature abhors a vacuum, too. Boredom is an example. Boredom, anxiety, irritability, and loneliness are all voids of emotional or mental stimulation. That type of void can eventually lead to all sorts of bad situations ranging from accidents to bad relationships.* If we are susceptible to an emotional or mental void, I would venture to say that our souls could also experience a void that will refuse to remain a void.

When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.” When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.  Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.  Matthew 12:43-45, NLT

Evil looks for a void where it can make itself at home. So, how do we keep that from happening in our souls? An exchange. Something good to fill the void before something evil does. Let me share an example from personal experience.

I found myself struggling with bitterness. I tried every way I knew to overcome it and nothing seemed to work. It simply put all my focus on my bitterness which only seemed to feed it. Finally, I realized my only hope was to give my bitterness to God. I knew He could take it, and He did. But a few days later it was back, and it seemed to be even worse than before. About that time I was reading in Ephesians, and the solution seemed to jump off the page at me.

Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy.  Ephesians 4:22-24, NLT

God wanted to make an exchange.

He didn’t want me trying to fix myself, He wanted the Holy Spirit to do it, to renew my mind and as a result, renew my whole attitude. God wanted me to give Him the bitterness and let the Holy Spirit finish His work, filling the void with something good. Throw off old, put on new. As I kept reading I realized that God already had an exchange in place.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.  Ephesians 4:31-32, NLT

Bitterness for kindness. Not my kindness, but God’s; a gift from Him for my obedience in letting Him take something that was only making life miserable for me and for everyone around me. Who wouldn’t accept an offer like that?

Suddenly, I began to see how the Bible is filled with exchanges. In that passage alone there were exchanges of bitterness for kindness, anger for a tender heart, harsh words and slander for forgiveness. Beautiful exchanges, like the ones in Isaiah 61, where God exchanges ashes for a crown of beauty, mourning for joy, despair for praise, shame for honor. I started to understand how God wanted to set me up for succeeding in living with a healthy soul, by exchanging all the unhealthy attitudes, emotions, and mindsets for healthy ones. No more voids.

You don’t have to deny yourself a beautiful life with a healthy soul. Identify your own unhealthy attitudes, emotions, and mindsets – your “soul toxins” – and give them up; not denying yourself, but accepting your own beautiful exchange. Your start at a healthier life is just an exchange away.

… let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good, and pleasing, and perfect.  Romans 12:3, NLT


Post Script: I’m still looking for a healthy brownie, preferably without black beans.

*Source: Leon F. Seltzer, PhD, “Human Nature Abhors a Vacuum, too”, Psychology Today blog, March 5, 2009.

5 thoughts on “Exchanges

  1. Yes, yes, yes! This resonates with me! Thank you for speaking out, my wise friend! Now excuse me while I go begin an “exchange” exercise and ask God to exchange x for y….. and while I go look for a non-black-bean-brownie recipe for you.


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