Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (CEB)
This Lent, I am embarking on Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Food ended today, so it’s a long post. (Sorry)
Day 1 (March 9, 2014)
Today has been pretty uneventful. I’ve eaten all 7 of my foods today. I like all of them (as much as anyone can enjoy quinoa), but I am wondering how I can keep this interesting. I’m already feeling rather bored with my choices. I found myself coveting one person’s choice of peanut butter in their 7. The question came up this weekend as I was explaining the coming week and in our discussion group today as well: Why am I doing this? How is this going to bring me closer to God?
Limiting myself to 7 foods puts me into a form of solidarity with most of the world. However, I am eating three meals a day and vanilla yogurt is a luxury. It is the only processed food on my list but since it requires refrigeration, it probably isn’t on any list of 7 for a country. For a week, I am limiting myself to 7 foods but already I am thinking about what I can eat next week.
Limiting myself to 7 foods should simplify my life. I don’t have to think very hard about what I’m going to eat (although I still need to think about what my family is going to eat). But will I fill this time with something worthwhile – or will I fill it thinking about what I could be eating?
Part of my hope this week is to find abundance rather than scarcity.
Youngest has chosen 7 foods as well to participate with me this week. I should be more encouraging to him – rather than annoyed that he keeps telling me what he wished he could be eating or wanting to switch his 7. Hopefully this week will also make this something meaningful we are doing together, and I will learn from him as well.
By yesterday, I was bored with my choices. I added sautéed spinach to my quinoa and chicken. I also cooked and sautéed in a bit of olive oil sweet potato slices. I decided to allow myself one seasoning a day. These foods are already so limited in flavor and most countries would have some form of local herbs or seasoning to add to their food.
When food is plentiful and in (almost) endless variety, I think a lot less about what I’m eating and why. Food is common and therefore I value it very little. While this may be a healthy approach to food, for me it leads to unhealthy and wasteful eating. I realize that I often eat when I’m bored. Now I’m bored when I eat, so even though I’m hungry I just don’t really care to eat that much. I think this is a good awareness. What I’m also aware of, though, is that I am not food-insecure. I’m a little hungry most of the day because I’m not interested in my choices. However I’m not worried about not having enough to eat, and I know this situation is temporary. I really take food for granted.
Meal time is definitely different as Youngest and I are eating 7. I’ve subjected the family to chicken the last two nights, so I left Dave and Eldest to fend for themselves tonight. Dave mentioned making soup, so I put water, chicken, sweet potato, spinach and rice (Youngest is eating rice and I’m eating quinoa, but it seems close enough) with a little olive oil and herbs d’ provence. It was a little bland, but it was a nice change from just a chicken breast. Last night I asked him how it was going. He had similar reflections on taking for granted the variety and quantity of food. We also talked about how much we enjoy different tastes and textures. I think (for at least a period of time after this week) we will both appreciate the choices we have.
One of the questions we are thinking about this week is how limited food (choices and quantity) impact our relationships – and our fellowship in the church. Right now, meals are not festive because each is more of the same. However, Youngest and I had a nice koinonia last night over the soup, which he appreciated as well. What makes Thanksgiving most people’s favorite holiday is the meal. Certainly the food is good, but the reliability of it year after year is probably just as important. The meal, the food, connect us to past Thanksgivings and family and friends who have passed away or just aren’t present. They are a time for new stories and shared stories. If we celebrated Thanksgiving with my 7 foods (at least there’s sweet potatoes!), I think the atmosphere would be completely different. We would say that we just appreciated the opportunity to be together, but I don’t think it would rank up there as a favorite year. So does the food facilitate and enhance our family meal or does the food create a barrier to deeper relationships?
Is it possible we make it too much about the food?
In other words, would we still get together without the food? And if we did, would we engage and relate with one another the same way – or is it a crutch we need to be in relationship with each other? What happens then when the “right” food isn’t available or in the proper quantity?
In my first Bible study, one woman described the Bible study she had when she was in high school. It rotated at different girls’ houses and the parents provided snacks. She said that over time the snacks became more and more elaborate. She began to wonder if it was more about the fancy treats than the Bible study.
As many parents know, there are a lot of good conversations that happen with your kids when you are in the car. It could be because everyone is stuck there but I think it’s also because we aren’t facing each other head on. We are allowed to look down or out the window because the driver can’t make eye contact. So maybe it doesn’t matter if food is a crutch because we do actually get together over meals. I thick the importance, though, is that the outcome is deeper relationships rather than using food to become a (unconscious) tool to avoid true community.
The time we spend cooking and eating together helps to integrate our everyday lives and our relationships. Maybe this is why Jesus chose food to remember him and draw us into communion with one another. The Passover Seder is both a remembrance and a statement of hope. The Lord’s Supper is both a remembrance and a statement of hope. In both of these it’s not really about the food but about what God has done, is done and is yet to do. Jesus knew the value of hospitality. Jesus knew that our faith needed to work in our everyday lives. Food isn’t necessary for our fellowship but it probably helps us to be more real with one another. And I think Jesus wants us to be real.
You know the one where you visit your parents and your Mom has made cherry pie and banana bread and you wake up in the morning to the smell of coffee and your family eats McDonalds in the car? Yeah, that just happened.
Our group decided to celebrate and break-fast together when we meet on Saturday mornings. There were a lot of reasons that flew through our email thread, but one of the most significant is because this is when we come together to reflect on the past week. It seemed artificial to meet and then continue our fast on our own through the rest of the day. Granted, I think this week is the biggest week as far as timing to break our fast. I don’t think we will all go home and change our clothes, spend money in an eighth place or immediately adopt a wasteful habit. Food is just a different thing.
Another reason to break the fast when we meet on Saturday morning is to allow space for Sabbath reflection. Jen took two weeks off between each of her months. Obviously I like this because it’s easier, but it also allows time to process. Going immediately from one area to another doesn’t allow time to reflect on the experience you’ve had and what your learnings and awarenesses have been. It makes sense for us to celebrate in our 7 community and then have the afternoon to reflect and prepare for the coming week.
As our group discussed our experiences and talked about the coming week (clothing), we discerned that it’s not really about suffering but more about awareness. Too often when we fast, we focus on identifying with Christ’s suffering when we are hungry. That is certainly one aspect of fasting, but it’s probably a bit legalistic as well if this is all we focus on. As we are resisting the excess that saturates our lives, it would really be too easy to focus on scarcity. But this is a worldly view. I think this is why Tuesday (soup day) was a breakthrough day for me – I began to see my choices not as individual items but how they worked together more holistically. In this way, I was able to find abundance in scarcity. After all, we didn’t limit how much we could eat just what we could eat.
Why is our natural tendency to focus on what’s missing rather than on what God has provided?
A final thought I had from my experience this week was on submission. Monday was the hardest day for me. Tuesday evening was a turning point, possibly because of the soup or maybe because Dave suggested it and it was a nice experience to share with Youngest. But I also think it was because I had accepted my 7 choices. I believe this also strengthened me when I was at my parents and there were so many yummy choices. I had brought food with me, and I was OK. Of course, I also knew I was getting closer to Saturday. This submission was not a giving up in futility but rather than an acceptance of what I had. This acceptance was even gratitude as I enjoyed a spinach-sweet potato omelet Friday – something I would never make, especially when I have the easy choice of processed cheese and ham. Acceptance and gratitude are certainly awarenesses I need to more fully integrate into my life.
May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance. – Jude 2 (CEB)
Week 1 Postscript
I can not convey the thankfulness of doing this as a group. Our email communications this week were funny and honest and encouraging. We had both the same and different experiences. We really thought about why we eat, when we eat, and what we eat. This is certainly God’s abundance in the midst of what could have been scarcity. With permission I share this beautiful prayer by one member of our group for another who was in desperate straits one afternoon:
Lord, please give [my friend] an extra measure of grace, strength, comfort, hope. Be sovereign over her body right now and give her body the energy it needs to do her job and serve her family. Help her not to be miserable. You promise your grace is sufficient. May that be real right now. Draw her near to you right now, and be glorified through this process. Amen.