Monday, January 23, 2017

We Crave What We Eat (or Taste and See the Lord is Good)

In Made to Crave, author Lisa TerKeurst makes a simple but profound statement: "We crave what we eat." I tend to reverse the order, thinking, "I eat what I crave." 
Both propositions speak truth. When I crave something salty, I satisfy it with a handful (or bowl) or chips. When I crave something sweet, I treat myself to some of M&Ms (i.e, a small bag). Every time I give into one of these cravings, I train my body to want the guilty pleasures of sodium and sugar all the more.

Regular consumption reinforces my cravings. I crave what I eat; I eat what I crave. The cycle trains my greedy palate and digs deep grooves into my gut. My stomach decides for me when and what to eat. Every attempt at dieting and self-restraint dies quickly to the power of habit.

Lisa TerKeurst was not original in her observation. St. Augustine made similar remarks in his Confessions. His lust for academic success and sexual pleasure diluted his appetite for God. He wrote:
I had no liking for the safe path without pitfalls, for although my real need was for you, my God, who are the food of the soul, I was not aware of this hunger. I felt no need for the food that does not perish, not because I had my fill of it, but because the more I was starved of it the less palatable it seemed. Because of this my soul fell sick (3:1, emphasis added).
Our cravings are not easily ignored because we have steadily fed them. Our occasional rewards -- a Coke, cookie, or can of beer -- become routines. Once entrenched, our cravings become compulsory. They take on a mind of their own, hijacking rational thought and rewiring our wills. (Read James K.A. Smith's You Are What You Love for more on spiritual habit.) 

Two stories come to mind: I think of Edmund eating Turkish Delights in the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. How many Turkish Delights did he consume before betraying his siblings? The more he fed his appetite, the less he craved family loyalty. Perhaps, Edmund's loyalty to his siblings was already famished. Perhaps, it was not the dark magic of the morsel that controlled Edmund, but the darkness of his appetite to rise above his older brother.
Another story of dangerous cravings appears in the Book of Genesis. Esau, twin brother of Jacob, returned home from a hunting expedition famished. His hunger felt deadly. His brother offered him an appetizing bowl of red stew. But Jacob demanded a high price. "Your birthright for my food." Perhaps, it was not the savory aroma of the stew that controlled Esau, but his lack of spiritual dependency. He made the exchange and exposed his disregard for God and family.

Both Edmund and Esau fell prey to selfish cravings. However, to limit cravings to food would obscure the point. 

Cravings also comprise success, pleasure, security, wealth, entertainment, physical well-being, knowledge, control, and significance. We need not look far to identify our cravings; it includes areas we expend a majority of our time, money, conversation, and mental/emotional energy on.
  • We crave physical health when we feed our bodies with a steady diet of exercise, nutritional facts, supplements, and disease concerns.
  • We crave amusement when we feed our souls a steady diet of sports,* television, movies, social media, shopping, books, board games, and YouTube videos.
  • We crave success when we feed our minds a steady diet of self-help literature, late night emails, early morning memos, sixty-hour work weeks, dreams of advancement, and ongoing comparisons.
St. Augustine warned against craving these "lesser goods." Confessions opens with the memorable precept: "Our hearts will find no peace until they rest in You." Echoes of that idea weave their way throughout the book. In other words, God must be our primary craving to experience true satisfaction.

But to crave God, we must feed our spirit with a steady diet of His Word (preached, read, and memorized), His presence (prayer, solitude, and corporate worship), His people (large gatherings and small clusters), and His work (evangelism, justice, giving, and serving). 

We are called to "taste and see the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8). We will crave Him when we consume His goodness. We must not accept substitutes.

*As an anecdotal example, I weaned myself off NFL football in recent years. Ten years earlier, I watched every weekend, played Fantasy Football (FF), and tracked statistics obsessively. Football became something of a god. Then my daughters were born and we cancelled our TV service. I stopped playing FF and only watched games at other people's homes. Each year, I've watched a little less (2 hours total in 2016 season). Cared a little less (Who's in the Superbowl?). 

It helps that I'm a Browns' fan, but I'm mostly not starved for NFL because I've replaced it with family time and naps. I always win with a nap.

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