Right now, tens of thousands of bleary-eyed and hungover Britons are swearing to themselves: “Never, ever, again”. For some, this new-found steely resolve will lead them to undertake a New Year’s Resolution to ‘detox’ — no alcohol, and often no ‘unhealthy’ food, for all of January.
Before we get to the spiritual bit, let me start by reassuring all those who have not made such a vow that detoxing is a complete and utter waste of time. The idea that by eating only organic food, going teetotal, or removing all E-numbers from your diet you can remove unspecified ‘toxins’ from your body has absolutely no scientific backing whatsoever.
In the words of the respected emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, Edzard Ernst: “Detoxing [a legitimate treatment for people with life-threatening drug addictions] has been hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment.
“The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin, even lungs that are detoxifying as we speak,” he told The Guardian last month. “There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.”
Similarly, while it is not a bad idea to have alcohol-free days now and then, it is medically nonsensical to attempt to purge your liver from, again, vague and ill-defined toxins by not drinking for a month. Drinking small amounts of alcohol regularly has actually been shown in several studies to prolong life, compared with both teetotallers and binge-drinkers.
So why do we put ourselves through this farcical ritual each January? I think Prof Ernst stumbles across the answer later on in the same interview: “It sort of keys into something that we all would love to have a simple remedy that frees us of our sins, so to speak.” I’d suggest it could be to do with how we understand ourselves. So often detoxing is a desperate attempt to ‘atone’ for our ‘sins’ over Christmas and New Year. We beat ourselves up for overeating and for drinking too much, so the idea of going *metaphorically* cold turkey, with its pseudo-medical benefits, seems quite appealing.
Of course, as Christians whose bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we should strive to eat healthily and not sink a bottle of wine each night in front of the telly. But wouldn’t we be able to address our diet and lifestyles better if we had a proper understanding of who we are in the first place?
Jesus taught us that we are not hopeless wretches, trying to accumulate more good acts than bad ones in a vain attempt to earn God’s favour. He already loves us, and sent His Son to die for us before we even gave him the slightest bit of notice. If that’s the case, we don’t have to desperately balance out our misdeeds of December with good deeds in January.
We can rest in the knowledge that God is pleased with us, pleased enough to call us his children, even while we were stuffing our faces with a third helping of turkey, or quietly quaffing that sixth glass of mulled wine on Boxing Day. And if He loves us already, perhaps we can accept that we, slightly podgy and occasionally worse for wear, are actually OK as we are. Not perfect, not as we should be or even could be, but not bad. And certainly not so bad that we need to force ourselves through a harshly ascetic January to reassure ourselves.
Our reassurance shouldn’t come from a detoxing resolution, but from bringing our restless hearts back to the simple gospel truth that Christ loved us, died for us, and rose for us. Jesus himself ate and drank enough that some called him a glutton and drunkard. And quite frankly, that’s all the encouragement I need.
This is part of our REVERSE RESOLUTION series. Every day this week we are taking a refreshing look at new resolution you shouldn’t take up this January. You’re welcome.