By Janelle Lacey
We see references to food scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments. Bread is mentioned 466 times; cooking 27 times; drink 452 times; food 1,207 times; and meals 354 times. Plant resources are mentioned from the get go in Genesis 1, and throughout the Bible we learn about various food offerings, land flowing with milk and honey, special diets (such as Daniel’s), provision of manna, and celebrations and feasts (e.g., Jewish customs, when Jesus turned water into wine). Food, drink, and nutrition for our physical bodies and how they impact us spiritually are clearly an important topic to our great God!
In fact, Jesus, in His “I am” statements, takes these food references to the next level—a favorite of mine being “I am the bread of life.” Through this metaphor, it is clear that the presence of our Creator is just as important and life-sustaining to us as food is to our bodies.
When you take the time to let this truth sink in, it starts to make sense. Our relationship with food can sometimes mirror our relationship with God: at times, not as healthy as we desire or more life-giving than we could ever imagine! We can find ourselves perplexed by the God of the universe in His Holy Trinity, but also by the plethora of advice out there regarding diets, claims, and trends that all dictate what we eat. Or, we can feel vibrant when we hear God’s still, small voice or feel an energy boost after making adjustments to our diet. It’s just navigating all the information out there about God and food, and then connecting rightly with them, that is the challenge.
Like many families, I grew up in one that put food at the center of all activity. It was what we did together, talked about, and thought about. As a child, I also observed how physically and spiritually depleted everyone seemed, as if they were not paying attention to the food or guidance in their lives that would help instead of hurt them. I imagine it was a matter of knowing the best choice but not being disciplined enough to carry it out, but watching loved ones suffer from potentially preventable lifestyle-related problems motivated me to learn more about nutrition (before it was such a trendy subject) and its impact on us spiritually. I quickly became mesmerized by the synchronicity of substances in food and the intricate systems of the body and decided to make it my career.
Since then, I came to the conclusion that diet is simply what you eat and nutrition is what those choices contribute to our health. However, our fast-paced, money-driven culture makes it difficult to do either of these successfully. We are prone to look to the “idols” of quick fixes and fads that don’t cause us to rely on God’s natural resources or provision in discipline and self-control, which help us live victorious and empowered lives. In fact, many of our country’s health and financial problems today are related to choosing more food-like products rather than food itself and then paying more money to undo the poor choices that we’ve made.
I’ve found that the most difficult piece of “repentance” in this cyclical drama to get on the right track with God and food is the emotional work associated with why we continue to pursue poor food choices or other inadequate substitutes. Reading God’s Word, journaling our experiences, seeking counsel, and praying all help us navigate who we are, who God is, and what we need to do in order to walk in freedom. But it’s hard. It’s a daily work, a re-training of the mind and reliance on our good Father, who cares about the details of our lives and provides for our every need, until we find ourselves pursuing and craving His ways naturally.
I know that the difficult part resonates with you. I mean, how often have you put something else at the center of your attention instead of God and it hasn’t worked out to bring you the peace, rest, value, etc. that you so crave? For me, that attention piece means consumption of some sort. Food is often an idol people turn to in order to avoid heavy emotions or challenges, but often turning to food in an unhealthy way goes unnoticed and even disregarded as a problem because it’s, well, “just food.”
This problematic place is often where I meet my clients. Stuck. Sick. Exhausted. They just don’t know what to do or how to move forward. My job as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist is to help individuals find a right balance and discipline with food, but my job as a Christian is to intertwine this skill with the love of Christ. I realized quickly that the only way to help my clients with food was to connect food with true love. If God is love and if God is our sustenance (i.e., the bread of life), then getting my clients to see themselves the way that God sees them was the key to unlocking the door to a healthy relationship with food.
This struck me when I became a Christian because God wants everything to be in its right place so that we thrive. As our Creator, He designed us and knows that if He is at the center of all things—our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:28-31)—we will be fully alive. He also knows how difficult it can be for us to understand and act upon this truth—so much so that in scripture, God commanded the Israelites to train their children in His ways by writing it on the door frames and gates of their homes, as well as tying it to their bodies (Deuteronomy 6:7-9)! With the constant inundation of information today, we need to take these scriptures seriously and ensure we are continually thinking and focusing on His ways and not our culture’s set of ever-changing values.
I have confidence in the work that I do because I believe it is the work of the Lord. Helping, healing, teaching, and encouraging people to walk in His ways so that all the good plans He has for them—including their health—follow suit. Until basic physical needs are met, it’s difficult to be spiritually available; but by putting the very best food into your body in the right combinations, you begin to think more clearly, feel energized, avoid negative self talk and can (finally!) get excited about serving, giving, loving, praying, and doing anything else that God leads you to do. Is that to say that people who eat poor quality food can’t have a relationship with God? Not at all. But how much greater is that relationship when we are able to be thankful for our intricate bodies and honor them according to His will!
As such, my hope this year is that our congregation will also begin to make God + Food a priority, so that we can feel its impact on our lives spiritually and walk in the abundant life the scriptures promise us. A verse that I’ve been praying over our community is 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
That’s truly what it’s all about!