Empty Calories…


Have you ever been really hungry? So hungry that you really aren’t hungry anymore, or that you don’t realize just how much your body needs food?
A few years ago, I went through an extended period where my economic situation was pretty bleak. I didn’t have a car, so my only transportation was either a bike, or my feet. I had a job, but the number of hours I was scheduled per week varied greatly, and my checks could be quite small at times. I received my paycheck every two weeks, and usually my money would run out before my next check. Sometimes several days before. As a consequence, I got pretty hungry by the time I received my check, and could buy food. On the day I was to receive my check, I would ride my bike the 4 and a half miles to my job, pick up my check, then ride back to a Walmart to get my check cashed. In the Walmart was a Subway. I always looked forward to that first meal… On the ride back from receiving my check, I don’t remember being particularly hungry, yet the anticipation of Subway made the trip seem particularly long. As soon as I walked through the doors of the restaurant, the aroma of freshly baked bread would instantly remind me of my own hunger. I usually ordered the same sandwich:
A footlong, ham and provolone, with lettuce, tomato, spinach, pickles, jalapeno, and mayo…
That was the best sandwich in the world, man…
In fact, now that my financial situation has improved, I still love going to Subway in celebration of those hard days, and how the food I received there nourished my body, quenched my appetite, and revived my soul. I could have purchased other food from other restaurants, or from Walmart, that would have been temporarily just as filling, but I knew that not only would the Subway sub quell the hunger pangs, it would also provide better nourishment that my body needed. Since I could add on veggies, if I chose, the sub was a better choice than other options which would provide me with empty-calorie choices which would leave me hungry again sooner, and wouldn’t contain the nourishment my body desperately needed.
Living by the beach, I have come to know something about empty-calorie living, and the temptation of chasing things that might quench our appetite for a time, yet leave our minds, souls, and bodies malnourished and crying for more…
More…
…empty-calorie food…
…empty-calorie beverages…
…empty-calorie touch…
…empty-calorie sex…
…empty-calorie relationships…
…empty-calorie sunsets…
…empty-calorie experiences…
Even empty-calorie religion…
It is easy to make the world a commodity that we consume as a self-medicant, through which we attempt to deny and run away from the brokenness, loneliness, and pain within. However, the medication we use does not aid in our healing, it instead masks the need for nourishment our souls need, and denies the need for transformation. Empty-calorie living denies the beauty of all we see around us… even the beauty of ourselves… it instead leaves us in the tyranny of our appetites.
Now… this thought begs the question: Are all empty-calorie activities bad, or wrong? Aren’t they ok in moderation?
Those are questions probably every kid raised in the church or an authoritarian household has asked at some time in their life. And I can’t really answer them for you or even for me sometimes. And it isn’t even the activity itself that designates whether it is empty of nutritional value or not. It is the manner in which we relate to it. This is what I know about me: It’s like the old Lays potato chip marketing line from a few years back: “Lays… You can’t eat just one.” While sitting down with a bowl of potato chips, I know that if I don’t self-edit my appetite, I will soon have the whole bag next to me, and; especially if I am watching TV; the bag will eventually be gone, and I will be looking for another bag. That is the design of empty-calorie foods… THEY TASTE GOOD! That is what is so surprising about the demise of the Twinkie! But the design of empty-calorie food is such that they draw you in to eating more of them, yet they have a negligible nutritional value, and a steady diet of them leads to ill-health.
I know how the faith tradition I grew up in would answer the questions above…
The faith tradition I grew up in used the term “self-denial” to describe a manner of living which fought against empty-calorie living. I confess that I misunderstood the concept, or the way that it was taught was confusing, or… something. Anyway, I am finally beginning to understand it better now. I used to think self-denial meant that there were certain things we stayed away from either completely or for certain periods of time:
…alcohol…
…sex…
…food…
…dancing…
…movies…
…television…
…fun…
Ok… maybe that was just my perception, but it WAS my perception. I am finding in the scripture, a more holistic approach to living and a better understanding of “self-denial.”
In the book of John, chapter 6, the story is told of Jesus’ feeding a large crowd when resources were scarce, and the location was isolated. Matthew writes that when Jesus found out about the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, at the hands of Herod; he retreated with his disciples to “a lonely place” (Matt. 14:13). Mark writes that the retreat to “a lonely place” was made after the disciples returned from a preaching/evangelizing tour, and the purpose was for them to decompress and “rest awhile”. (Mark 6:30-32) They travelled across the sea in a boat, and a large crowd kept sight of the craft all the while skirting the shoreline quickly enough to meet Jesus and his party on the other shore. So the scene is of a large crowd of diverse people in the wilderness with negligible provision for self-maintenance.
Jesus puts a frame around the dilemma when he questions the apostle Phillip:
“How are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?”
Phillip’s response typifies my own response many times when in a similar situation:
“Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little!”
When seeing great need, it is easy to become overwhelmed with my inability to meet either my own need, or that of another. Peter’s brother Andrew at least scours the crowd to find resources of some type, and he approaches Jesus with a possibility: “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?” Even while he is enterprising enough to at least look for an answer for the problem, he perceives his efforts and the found provision from his search, to be inadequate for the need. So Jesus instructs the people to sit down, and is doing so they…
…end their searching
…give themselves over to the provision of Jesus
…stop striving
…stop arguing
…stop grabbing
…they wait
And…
…the little boy gives
…Jesus receives
…Jesus prays, asks and receives God’s blessing
… He breaks and gives
…the people receive
…they break and give.
…they receive nourishment from God’s provision
…and give from their brokenness which has been blessed by God
…for the nourishment of their neighbor.
Twelve baskets were left after all the people were filled, satisfied, and nourished. This is a picture of the economy of God.
I mentioned earlier that my understanding of “self-denial” is undergoing a change. Honestly, I don’t completely see the picture God is trying to trace for me about how this concept works; but I am beginning to understand that “self-denial” is less about what activities we DON’T undertake, but more about the practices we DO! It has to do with what we receive from God. God’s provision is tricky, and frequently in packages we don’t expect. Sometimes God’s provision comes in a miraculous bounty meant for both our nourishment, and that we might be a conduit of nourishment for others. Other times God’s provision comes in brokenness, and the manner in which we receive it allows us to still be a means of nourishment for the souls of others. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.
I must confess, though, that being open to love people in their brokenness can hurt. It is a strong temptation to become so engaged with the hurt of another, especially when they are self-medicating, that you can become sucked into looking for nourishment from empty calories as well. Love invites another into healthy love which brings nourishment to the soul, yet is willing to accept the rejection of your invitation. That is hard. Yet it is what Jesus practiced all the time. Jesus accepted the pain of loving people that were so enmeshed with their empty-calorie life that they walked away from the full-grain, Bread of Life which was packed with life nourishing qualities they needed to be fully-functioning human beings; in search of a white-bread life stripped of all nutritional value. It is important, as disciples of Jesus, that when we are “fishing for people” we not become entangled in our own nets… While the Bread of God must be received and consumed for our own nutritional needs, it also is broken and shared. Yet it must not be hoarded. It can be easy to hoard our brokenness, rather than allow it to change us into giving people. God’s provision is always generative for the one who receives it, and then shares it.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s