Saturday, July 14, 2012

Grace for Food: More than a Prayer

The neat thing about pursuing a counter-cultural (and somewhat self-denying) diet is that it has developed my capacity for self-discipline in ways that, five months ago, I would have never imagined possible! I'm daily amazed at the ways new appetites and taste preferences enable me to "pry my cold, dead fingers" off of previously non-negotiable food choices. So many food beasts now seem under control (or at least stuffed into a cage), and the positive results I've seen only prod me further down the plant-based path.

The downside, however, is that strict, satisfying, and successful food discipline can also easily play into another fixation of mine: an admitted love of control. You won't hear me down playing, equivocating or denying that character flaw: I love control. I know I do. I'm constantly scoping out ways I can have it and feel very unraveled when I don't. And so, adopting a food lifestyle that requires seemingly superhuman feats of self-denial and discipline on a thrice-daily basis can easily turn into hourly opportunities to scratch my little control beast lovingly under the chin.

his potential for vice-exchange (trading in my addiction with food for an obsession with self-control) is a nerve the Lord was gracious to tap on right away. Thankfully the attentive eye and heavy hand of the Holy Spirit keep me quite mindful of this tendency. And so with prayer, humility, submission, and self-monitoring, I trust that He will keep me on the path to godly equilibrium: a life of balanced, kingdom-focused priorities that are pleasing to Him.

Born out of my appreciation for self-control and spiritual discipline is a weekly tradition of fasting from lunch on Friday's. Fasting is one of those important, oft-forgotten disciplines that will fall to the wayside for months at a time if I don't make it a regular "fixture" in my routine. And so no, it doesn't sound like much. I essentially abstain from food for a mere 9 or 10 waking hours. But unlike my husband (who can miraculously plow through breakfast and lunch without a morsel all for the sake of keeping busy), I depend on my scheduled meals and feel very out of sync, and rather prickled, without them. 

And so it's good for me to practice small instances of self-denial during my week and to remember (while I idiotically and self-torturously combine my fast with my weekly grocery trip), that food isn't everything. Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4), Jesus replied to the devil's temptations while fasting. And so fasting is a good reinforcement of this truth for me, especially now when I seem to love food, recipes, and meal-planning more than ever. Plus, God's worth a lot more than a measly missed meal here or there. 

Last week, while fasting and tackling my usual Friday errands, I began to feel that my flesh was disliking it more than usual. While moseying around Wal-Mart, I felt light headed, a tad weak, and "off." I wondered if I should heed my bodies requests for some fuel and skip fasting this week, but the legalistic, proud, ascetic part of myself didn't want to budge on my fasting tradition for anything! God wasn't going to see any weak, undisciplined deal-breaking here! So I pressed on down the aisles and continued to feel airy and odd. And yet, amid these stubborn ruminations, it seemed that God was trying to speak a few gospel-centered lessons into my heart. Some of them included:
  • Mark 2:27 - Fasting/disciplines/traditions are for our sake, not for racking up brownie points.
  • Romans 14 -Whether or not I eat or don't eat will not make God love me any more or less than He does now. 
  • Matthew 15 - Jesus criticized the Pharisees for making their man-made traditions equal to, and even more important than, the spirit of God's laws. 
  • Matthew 12:4 - When David and his companions were hungry, they ate the show-bread which was for Priests and therefore unlawful for them to eat. Jesus made this point of sanctioned "rule-breaking" to the Pharisees who were criticizing His disciples for picking and "harvesting" grain on the Sabbath.
  • Jesus is just downright awesome! He did so much to liberate us from the weight of moral strictures! Yes, the law is good and important, but it is not necessary to earn approval (much of why I didn't want to break down and heed my body's requests).
  • Perhaps today I can eat in gratitude to Jesus! Maybe eating in light of His liberating work on the Cross would itself be a form of worship!
After a thinking on these truths and allowing them to loosen me up a bit, I broke down and grabbed a bag of almonds from the shelf to munch on (yes, I paid for them! No, they weren't sold by weight). Then I began to think about the spirit behind the letter of the law. 

Alright, Lydia. Why do you fast in the first place? Aside from flexing your spiritual brawn in a legalistic muscle show, isn't it so that you can practically free yourself up to spend concentrated time with the Lord? Isn't it so that you can develop a better awareness of His presence and His all-sufficiency in your life? What if, instead of fasting today, you went on a "lunch date" with Jesus? What if you stopped running your errands on fumes and self-determination, got some lunch in a quiet place, cracked open your bible, and simply spent some time worshiping Jesus for the freedom He's given you?

Hmmm. Okay, God. Let's go on a date!

So that's what we did. I hopped over to Panera Bread, savored a Mediterranean hummus sandwich, read some of the gospels, and praised Jesus for Calvary, for fasting, for food, and for His many instances of grace and generosity in between! I admit this time of focused attention on Jesus and His freedom-giving mercy was probably more nourishing to our relationship than my plan to distractedly knock out errands on an empty stomach. 

And so this lesson in loosening up in Christ and taking things easy on myself was powerful. It encouraged me to remember that there is grace for everything: for food choices (not just when to eat, but sometimes what), for spiritual disciplines, and for life all around. 

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