"I do not want this pumpkin pie.... This fried chicken will give me a stomach ache and indigestion.... Eating this food will not end well.... I am not even hungry...."
This is the kind of self talk I had to do to keep myself from eating the fried chicken and pumpkin pie that sat on my lap for hours during the drive back from an out of state trip last weekend. We had attended a memorial service for a dear friend in Virginia, but we needed to get back that night. So with the blessings of the family, we took our food "to go" from the reception after the service. Now to be clear, this was not just any fried chicken. This was southern fried chicken, which meant two things: it tasted really good, and it had more grease and fat in it than a McDonald's fry pot. This kind of eating is now a rarity for us where we live up here in the snow belt. And to be honest, our stomachs can no longer handle that kind of richness, no matter how good it looks or tastes.
In addition to this, I had just eaten plenty of good food. To top off my already full stomach with heavily fried and sugary food would inevitably lead to nausea and indigestion for the rest of the trip home. And yet I still struggled not to eat it, for no other reason than the fact that it was sitting right in front of my face.
Have you ever struggled not to consume something that you knew was not good for you (a lie, an addiction, an unhealthy habit or relationship), simply because it is sitting right in front of you? Have you ever struggled with the feeling that you need something or cannot be happy without it, even when your brain knows it's bad, simply because it's sitting right in front of you? Therein lies the the danger of what I like to call the "See-food diet," which of course applies to much more than just food.
The apostle Paul addressed this very issues with the adolescent church at Corinth, whose misunderstanding of their freedom and grace in Christ led them to desire and consume some very unhealthy things:
"'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are beneficial. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be dominated by anything." -1 Corinthians 6:12 NRSV
That catchphrase "All things are lawful" was a popular saying in Corinth which reasoned that since Christ's life and death fulfilled the requirements of the Jewish law, those who followed Christ should be able to do whatever they desired to do. What the Corinthians forgot is that a new law reigned, the law of love.
When we first seek and desire after what pleases God, then it's safe to do what we want, because we want what God wants. But without this first step of surrendered love, seeking after every fleeting desire and whim is both unwise and dangerous.
Translation: Don't use freedom in Christ as an excuse to do dumb things. Or to put it in food language: we don't have to eat every piece of fried chicken we see. Bad choices may not keep us from Heaven, but they still hurt us. In fact, to continually pursue pleasure alone by consuming every good looking thing that is set before us leads us back into the exact kind of slavery from which God has set us free. I'd rather be dominated by God's grace.
So I still sometimes struggle to keep from eating too much food on my plate. I still struggle not to put too much food on my plate. And yet as I preemptively seek out good, nourishing things to eat, the draw of the other items diminishes. And when I set my heart to feast on the goodness of God, somehow the draw of this world's gluttony becomes far less appealing.
This Thanksgiving, may you feast on God's goodness!
Photo by tresiahoban3 on Pixabay.