I was thinking today about the first time we ever took Rebekah and Elijah to a Japanese steakhouse. You know, the kind where you all sit around a big table with a bunch of other people you don’t know. People on dates, who either don’t yet have children of their own or actually hired a baby sitter so they could have a quiet, kidless, dinner , only to be seated at a table with us. Good times.
Then the Japanese waiter comes out, ready to cook in front of you. But before he does, he squirts oil all over the hot cooking surface—which happens to be about thirty-six inches from your child’s face—and throws a match on it, setting it on fire. A really, really big fire. Thirty-six inches from your child’s face. A fire that successfully singes off every eyelash and eye brow, and a few bangs from your child’s face.
Well, a few years ago when Rebekah was six and Elijah was four, we thought it was time to finally expose them to a fine culinary experience. You know, sort of a cultural field trip. So we took them over to the strip mall, between The Target and The Shoe Carnival, to a little Japanese place called Fuji.
At this point in my children’s “preschool” lives, they pretty much only ate on their terms. What they liked, when they wanted it. Nothing strange. Nothing weird. Nothing with sauce. Nothing that didn’t look or smell exactly like Mom’s. That made eating out tons of fun, I tell you. What with all the non-strange, non-wierd food in a Japanese restaurant, how could my children not LOVE this place?
That evening I ordered steak, white rice and salad for the kids. I wasn’t hopeful about the salad or the steak, quite frankly. But I was fairly certain they would at least try the white rice before asking, “Can I have dessert?”
As I suspected, Rebekah wrinkled her nose at the salad smothered in ginger dressing, looked on in complete and utter horror at the giant scoop of grilled vegetables dripping in teriyaki sauce, and barely licked the corner of one piece of steak before declaring it “gross.” The end.
Elijah, on the other hand, took his miniature set of chop sticks, positioned them purposefully in his little hand and dug right into that salad. Mouthful after messy mouthful, he shoved large pieces of lettuce into his mouth. (Note: prior to this meal, Elijah had never even touched a piece of lettuce–ever.)
Is this the same kid, who just four hours prior challenged me to a standoff over the consumption of a peanut butter sandwich?
Not only that, but when the chef placed two sample pieces of shrimp on the corner of his plate, he devoured them whole and asked for more.
Uh, honey, did he just eat shrimp? Now probably wouldn’t be a good time to have a Fitness Friday lesson about bottom-feeders, huh?
Then he moved on to the steak, the rice and last but not least, the giant scoop of teriyaki vegetables! As my daughter sat on my left, literally picking up her rice one grain at a time, my son sat on my right passionately devouring a full plate of food that he had never seen, tasted or (gasp!) smelled before. I fell like I got a little glimpse of what it will be like for Jesus when He has to separate the sheep from the goats on judgment day.
My husband and I grew increasingly more gleeful as we observed his enthusiasm and pleasure in consuming this unusual meal. After exchanging lots of whose-kid-is-this kind of glances, we watched him slurp up the last messy bite. And with all the exhilaration of two parents who really need to get a sitter and go out to dinner alone more often, we clapped and cheered for Elijah as if he had just completed a triathlon.
What is it about our children’s eating habits that can cause us to become unglued and elated within the same four-hour period? Maybe it’s the fact that appetite and health are so closely linked to one another. One of the first signs of illness we notice in our kids is almost always a loss of appetite. But even when they are not sick, we understand that our children need balanced nutrition to develop and grow. So we go to extremes to see that it happens: hiding shredded veggies in the muffin batter and creating smiley faces with the carrot sticks, cheese cubes and banana slices. No matter what their ages, from infancy to adulthood, our joys, frustrations and worries are significantly tied to what, when and how often our children eat.
I wonder sometimes if God views our eating habits the same way. Not what we eat with our mouths, but what we eat with our hearts, minds and spirits. What signs does He look for to determine and monitor our spiritual health? Does a loss of appetite for His word trigger a warning sign to Him that we are getting sick? Does it concern Him when we repeatedly crinkle our noses to “meat” but do not hesitate to ask for “dessert?”
I can almost hear Him whisper, “Child, why aren’t you eating? Are you OK?”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt 5:6)
God desires us to have a hunger—a craving, a passion—for His word and His presence. And not only that, He promises to satisfy our yearnings with Himself.
“I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never go thirsty.” (John 6:35)
From a physical standpoint, we can actually train our palettes to desire healthy food. I have found, for example, the less junk I eat, the less junk I want to eat. In fact, once I started to prepare and consume whole foods in their natural state, I trained my body to crave and enjoy the purity of food the way God intended it to taste. Just the thought of eating processed food is gross to me.
It’s the same with spiritual food. Developing habits of daily Bible reading produce hunger for more if His word. Daily worship produces hunger for more of His presence. Daily seeking the Lord for direction produces hunger to hear His voice. It’s a strange and wonderful phenomenon…the more we seek Him, the more we find Him. The more we find Him…the more we love Him.
Check back tomorrow for some questions you can ask yourself to check the health of your spiritual appetite.