Have you ever sought support for a personal problem or trial, only to be told by someone, “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers”?

I’ve heard the words. I’ve said them, too. I was tempted to say them again several months ago when my best friend began the most difficult task of his life.

He started a diet program. Actually, “diet” doesn’t quite cover his new commitment. After wearing triple-X most of his adult life, he’s enrolled in an intensive, 82-week, medically supervised program. The diet includes group support meetings, regular doctor appointments and the most-dreaded weekly lab tests.

But worst of all, he could only eat soup, protein bars and protein shakes during the first four months. That’s it. Not a single other thing.

Trying to avoid the platitudes of support, I promised to do anything to help, even help defray the $4,000 cost.

“No, thank you,” he said. “Just pray.”

But prayer didn’t seem enough. If only I could show my support by sacrificing something equally difficult. But how could I? I don’t qualify to enroll in the program with him.

I racked my brains trying to think of something that would demonstrate an empathetic sacrifice. Much like a personal lent, I wanted to relinquish something of value to show him that I was praying and thinking of him more deeply.

A few days later, I had an idea and presented it in a greeting card: “As a means of showing my support, I promise to give up french fries for the duration of your diet.”

“How are you possibly going to do that?” he asked, knowing that my top three vegetables are mashed potatoes, baked potatoes and french fries.

He knows it’s the fries I crave. We are chaplains in the same hospital, where he watches me eat them two or three times a week. I never ask the calorie count of a meal, only, “Do fries come with that?”

My friend watches me eat fries in all forms: shoestring, steak-cut, curly, crisscross and crinkle-cut. I eat them topped with cheese, garlic, chili and carne asada. Just writing about them is weakening my resistance.

I’ve enjoyed them in Europe as twice-fried pomme frites and in England as plain chips. In Turkey, I had them laced with mayonnaise and catsup. In Quebec  smothered in brown gravy and cheese curds. And if any waiter thinks he can serve them cold, I’m quick to tell him, “You don’t know spud.”

Nevertheless, I’m maintaining my pledge and have forgone my precious fries. With this nearly meaningless sacrifice, I’ve examined just a little piece of the denial my friend must struggle with every moment. My french-fries fast has become, in a sense, an active part of my prayer for him.

It’s true that people must first find ways to help themselves, like my friend learning to master his food cravings. But it’s equally true that we can do more than just pray for others. Through actions and words, we can find relevant ways to put arms and legs to our prayers.

You’ll be glad to know that, after completing his first four months, my friend has resumed regular food in small portions. He’s lost nearly 70 pounds and his wife has lost 35 pounds. My friend isn’t done yet. He’ll go much farther in months to come.

And, truthfully, supporting him through empathetic sacrifice hasn’t been that hard. My fast will end Oct. 28, and so far I’ve still not eaten a single fry.

Wait. Hash browns aren’t technically fries, are they?
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