It’s January, and for most of my life that meant I’d do three things:
- Come up with a Bible reading plan.
- Make a list of goals for the year.
- Start a diet.
This is what my life has looked like ever since I entered my first Weight Watchers meeting at the age of twelve.
I have spent over forty years trying to lose weight.
I learned from an early age that “normal” food was the enemy and that it was my job, especially as someone who wanted to be a representative of Christ, to look like I was without the “sin” of overeating. I definitely couldn’t eat like my friends. So I was a devotee of Lean Cuisine meals, cottage cheese, and dried-out chicken breasts.
Food was the enemy, and my job was to defeat the enemy and not eat the food. The holiest thing I could do was to starve myself.
If only I had enough willpower, enough strength, I could resist eating everything at youth group and after Sunday services at church.
These destructive patterns continued until I was older and had a family of my own. I would make a meal for them, then eat my Lean Cuisine in the other room so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat the “real” food everyone else was eating. Even for years after my kids had grown and had moved out of the house, I would continue to play tricks with my food — postponing meals for hours and then binging, asking my husband to hide food from me, and trying dozens of other ways to keep food over enemy lines.
But this year? I’ve decided to stop making food the enemy.
This is the first year of my life that I didn’t start a diet on January 1. Instead of spending New Year’s Day throwing out any food that could feel like a treat, we hosted our friend, Diane, who brought a feast of traditional Korean food to our house.
When I consider how God wants me to think about food, sharing a meal from my friend’s culture definitely ranks higher than calorie counting and “being good” (the term for eating any low-calorie meal in my house growing up).
I’m dedicating this year to listening to the body God gave me instead of listening to outside voices that want to shame me into buying their food, exercise, or supplement program.
If I’m hungry, I’ll eat, because that’s how God has designed my body to work. (Even though my “hunger signal” is all messed up from decades of dieting.)
I’ll move my body — not to lose weight but for joy — while dancing with my husband, exploring the outdoors with our dog, and taking care of the house and property God has entrusted us with.
Now, as I’ve spent more time in the New Testament, I can see that Jesus not only loved food, but meals were part of how He ministered to so many.
Jesus had a short time in ministry (the most important ministry to ever exist) but when I look at how Jesus dealt with food, He wasn’t slicing up some dried fish and grilled vegetables and walking to the next house. One of the biggest miracles He performed was feeding five thousand people (which was probably more like ten thousand since they didn’t count women or children). Jesus knew that physical needs had to be met along with spiritual needs.
For Jesus, food was not just about functioning.
For Jesus, the meals were the ministry.
He celebrated with others. When Jesus was at the wedding with His mom and they ran out of wine, He recognized that wine was an important part of the celebration. Not only did Jesus turn water into wine, but He gave them the best wine.
He contributed to helping the poor. He let the religious leaders of the time know that it mattered whether they served and loved the poor or not. “For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink” (Matthew 25:42, NLT). Through food, Jesus demonstrated that charity is about serving His beloved.
He communicated His values. Jesus spent a lot of time eating with “inappropriate” people: the sinful woman, tax collectors, and others who were considered God’s enemies. Jesus cherished each of these people, not just with words, but also in sharing meals with those others believed He should not have even been seen with.
He connected with those around Him. On His last night on earth, Jesus didn’t gather His closest people around a campfire or a pulpit; He gathered them around a table with food in order to eat together.
Food was important to Jesus. And what have I done? I’ve spent most of my life trying to pretend food wasn’t important at all. That I should be OK living on lettuce and 100 Calorie Packs. For some of us, one of the bravest acts we will partake in is untangling decades of lies about food and, instead of fearing food, actually finding the meaning in it.
If you also struggle with how you relate to food, maybe it’s time to rethink that particular relationship.
Be gentle with yourself. God is with you as you figure this out. You are not alone.
As with all of His most beloveds, He is at the table with you.