In my chapter titled “Unhurrying Our Thoughts” of An Unhurried Leader, I talked about my long-standing wrestling match with food. (You can read what I wrote on pp. 134-35). I wanted to unpack that struggle with gluttony a little more in real-time here.
A New Opportunity
Our family recently switched medical coverage to save money on monthly premiums. As part of that coverage, I suddenly had access to a health coach. It took months for me to take advantage of this resource because, honestly, I was ambivalent about changing my eating habits. It's embarrassing to say, but I was a little attached to my gluttony.
There have been a number of reasons I eat poorly or eat too much. Sometimes it’s a misguided stress reduction strategy. The stress of starting a new nonprofit from scratch last year with Gem provided me many tempting moments with food over our first year. In fact, I reached my highest weight ever by early 2017. What an achievement! Sometimes, though, my overeating is just a matter of trying to address boredom in my life.
So as I began to meet biweekly with this coach, we talked about all of this. I shared the nature of my relationship to food, some of the thoughts that lead me to turn food into an idol, and the burden (the actual physical weight) that it had become. She was very gracious in listening, and then offered some simple, practical suggestions for moving forward.
A Change of Lifestyle
Just about everyone who talks about these issues about gluttony and food says something like, “Diets don’t work. You have to change your lifestyle.” Fair enough. But I needed a vision for how this new lifestyle, especially as it related to food, would be a better life than the one I had now.
I could hear the argument whispering in the back of my mind: “If you give up eating the food that brings you comfort, that will leave you without something you need.” It’s a pretty pitiful sentence when I write it out like that, but it sounds pretty compelling as mental whispers from the backstage of my consciousness. But what if Jesus is right about food?
Jesus and Food
Recently, I began to notice ways in which Jesus related to food. There was the time he had been fasting for 40 days in the wilderness right after his baptism and right before he embarked on the ministry to which the Father had called him.
The first temptation mentioned in that setting was the temptation to make magic bread from rocks. Jesus’ response was from a line in the law, which I’ll paraphrase as, “Bread isn’t what my soul needs most right now. What I need is the nourishment that comes from communion with the Father.
These are not just fine-sounding words. Jesus is talking about reality. And this reality is true for me as well. What truly nourishes me comes in vital communion with God. Of course my body needs food to function, but my soul does not have a stomach. Food cannot satisfy my deepest needs. God does.
“Food You Don’t Know About”
The other morning, I was reading the story of the woman at the well in John 4. The disciples had gone into town midday to get some food and left Jesus by the town well. (It was the famous well dug by Jacob centuries earlier). After Jesus’ conversation with the woman, the disciples return with food and offer some to Jesus.
What is Jesus’ response? “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” They start wondering who else might have brought Jesus something to eat in their absence, but that’s not what Jesus is talking about. He later says something like, “What nourishes me is to act in harmony with the will of my Father who sent me. Working with God feeds my soul.”
I think it is the “with God” part of this that feeds us. God’s work is a context in which we enjoy being with God and find ourselves nourished by God. Trying to do God’s work apart from God just makes us hungrier. We end up trying to find nourishment in the work rather than in the God with whom we might work.
The Fruit of a New Lifestyle
So, it’s been about two months since I started meeting with this health coach. I celebrate the 22 pounds I’ve lost so far. I’m certainly grateful to be feeling less burdened by this excess weight. I celebrate how much energy I’m feeling now with the new exercise patterns I’m developing.
I’m probably a few weeks away from “graduating” from this free coaching relationship, but what I’m trying to remain focused on is how nourishing and life-giving it is to be in friendship with God and to be working with God.
A few weeks ago, we had a small group of young adults over on a Sunday evening. We were sharing a little about the work we do, and sharing some of what we’ve been learning about life with God lately. At some point, we looked at our watches and it was well past 11:00pm and well past our normal bedtime. But we weren’t tired. We felt energized and rested (even me as the introvert).
Like what Jesus says about his food coming in communion with the Father, our sense of deep rest, even in the absence of our normal sleep habits, came as we were abiding in the place of God’s heart and engaging in God’s work.
So even though I’ve set a weight goal that I’m aiming towards, I’m making every effort not to focus on that goal. I’m trying, instead, to remember each day that Jesus just might be right about being deeply nourished in relationship with the Father. That’s a lifestyle change that will bear good fruit for years to come.
Reflection on Gluttony
- What’s your relationship with food like these days? In what ways might gluttony be an issue in your journey?
- In what ways might you be looking for something your soul needs in the food you put into your mouth?
- And how might friendship with the Father be more truly nourishing to you than anything you could ever eat?
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