I love this time of year. I bet you do, too. It’s one of the only times where the party invitations keep coming in, the darker nights lend themselves to steaming soups, piping hot bread, and freshly baked Christmas cookies — not to mention more sweets, drinks, and nibbles “because it’s Christmas.” It’s a season of indulgence and yet, I wonder what we miss when we forget about the waiting, and when we cover up our real hunger with cookies and holiday drinks.
The problem isn’t the food or my inability to eat healthily, to say “no” to what is bad for me and hunger after what is good. The problem isn’t food at all.
Like so much else — relationships, sex, church, houses — food is a gift. It is sustenance and grace and provision. Like good gifts it is meant to be received and enjoyed. But when we obsess over it, Gollum-like, through our indulgence or abstention, we’re simply using the gift of good food to say something about ourselves.
That I don’t measure up unless I measure up.
That I use food to feel my feelings because I’m too scared to feel them. Swallowing them is much easier.
That I feel productive when I eat healthily so I’ll beat myself up when I deviate from my plan.
That I deserve this coffee or cocktail or this cookie because somehow it’ll make up for hard decisions, tired mornings, and feeling unseen and unappreciated.
As if food could solve soul problems. Food is the safest drug we have.
We’re stuck in a cycle of hyper-control and over-indulgence. But even good holiday food does not deserve the mental gymnastics I play, the amount of time of flitting mental comments about jeans fitting, exercises that need doing, or let’s be honest, realizing that mostly I’ll end up curled on the couch with a book under some Christmas tree lights. We starve ourselves and we gorge ourselves, but we’re really just hungry underneath.
How we eat, and if we eat, shows us who we truly are. A Rabbinic commentary on the parable of the prodigal sons succinctly points out the connection between hunger and its end, repentance: “When Israelites are reduced to eating carob-pods, they repent.” When the younger son in the parable had spent his fortune and then, when it was gone, was starving, he woke first to his need. There in his hunger was a gift, too. The gift of the desert space was an awakening to his sonship. It is God’s kindness, even in the barren lands, that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). I don’t need more or less Christmas cookies. What I need is intimacy with God, what I need is to pay attention to the needs of others around me and serve others — from my children, to my neighbor next door, to the one in the next town over who doesn’t have enough to eat, to the one across the world. And, it is God’s kindness that helps us to hunger for him. But it’s so much easier, isn’t it, to laugh with a girlfriend about all the holiday goodies than tell her of the swirling questions surrounding that same cookie.
I wonder what would change if I saw food as an invitation to communion with God. What if my experience with food could be less about following the law of it, and more about drinking beauty down to the dregs? What if food could show me my deeper hunger and that there is a feast that will satisfy? Will I be brave enough to go there? Will you?
God’s gracious call isn’t to a new diet, it’s to repentance and kingdom flourishing. It’s to a life lived in the space between already and not yet. It’s a life that looks back and a life that looks forward. It’s a life that can wheedle down to the marrow of our hungers because we have a God who sees.
So we pray, this season:
Deliver us from using food to satisfy longings that only Jesus can meet.
Deliver us from feeling entitled to Christmas cookies while others starve.
Deliver us from using eggnog to satisfy our souls.
Deliver us from such an inward-focus that we lose that food is a gift meant to be shared.
Enable us to recover hospitality in its messy and broken forms.
Help us to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Enable our hunger to draw us more fully into union with Christ and to serving our neighbor.
Jesus, you are the bread of life, the Word made flesh. Help us to feast on you. Help us ask questions of our hungers and not cover them up with sugary versions of truth, justice, love and beauty. May you alone satisfy. Amen.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.