In grade school, I was the fat kid. I don’t know how else to say it, but I was the catcher from the movie Sandlot. I was Chunk from the Goonies. To overcome childhood obesity, I’ve learned quite a bit about nutrition, health, and fitness. I’ve tried all sorts of eating styles. I’ve fasted. I’ve gone heavy on the greens. I’ve eaten high fat and low carb. And I’ve found that every one of those diets “works” for me at some level.
But I’ve also found that there is one habit that destroys them all: eating too fast. To my embarrassment, I’ve looked up from my empty plate only to find that everyone else is just starting to taste their meals. Too frequently, I gobble up my food before saying, “Grace.” And I’ve gone back for seconds before my brain can even register that I’ve already taken in plenty of calories. Not only does this leave me feeling bloated and tired, but overeating like this shows lack of self-control.
That’s why I resonate with Pastor Mike’s description of Esau in this week’s sermon. He describes Esau like a hairy beast who eats like one too. Not only was this probably bad for his waistline, but his impulsive behavior led to the loss of his birthright and inheritance.
I already know this. I know gorging causes all sorts of problems for both my body and soul. I know God calls gluttony a sin and that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. So why do I (and many others) keep overeating? In my case, stuffing myself, even with healthy food, is a kind of coping mechanism for unwanted emotions. When I’m feeling anxious or depressed, guilty or afraid, I quickly shove food down my throat, coating my feelings with cashews. I also seem to eat quickly out of the illogical fear that there won’t be enough to go around. (This is my own personal observations of my sins and weaknesses. Your story might be completely different, with a unique set of personal health challenges.)
Now compare my vicious cycle of gobbling and gorging with a common practice of Jesus. For example, when the four gospel writers tell the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, they say that after a long day of teaching, everyone was famished. The problem was they didn’t have enough food to feed Jesus and his closest followers, let alone everyone else. But instead of diving into the few loaves of bread they had on hand, Jesus gave thanks and distributed the bread to the crowd. And, miraculously, there was more than enough for everybody.
Now the main message of this story seems to be God’s remarkable provision for his people. Yet what amazes me is Jesus’ deliberate practice of giving thanks before he ate. Although his stomach must have been growling, he stopped, lifted his hands to heaven, and praised his Father. I’ve noticed that when I follow this practice of prayer and thanksgiving, my meals don’t normally become a coping mechanism but an act of worship. Eating in this unhurried fashion keeps me from eating in a way that leads to regret. This is not to say that prayer is just another “life hack” to stop overeating, but I do believe that if I don’t make time to pray, it reveals something about my heart and relationship with food. If I don’t pray, I’m probably forgetting who provided this food and what its function really is. But when I pray, I remember that food is a good gift of God to be enjoyed as an act of adoration.
I’ve spent enough time wallowing in shame and guilt because of gluttony, so I don’t want to send you into that same downward spiral. I want you to know that God does meet our gorging with his grace. Jesus is the Bread of Life, who wants to satisfy our souls with his forgiveness and acceptance. He invites all of us broken people to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).
From that place of God’s grace, we can slow down and savor what our Lord has provided. Like Jesus, we can lift our hands and give thanks for the food he has provided. Following this practice might not eliminate all our issues of overeating, but I do believe it can begin to reorient our hearts to delight in food as a gift of God and not as an inevitable source of guilt.