The following is an article which I recently wrote for Abundance of Grace Emagazine. Some of the major points will also be part of a Teen session that I will be teaching at a Ladies Meeting in May, although it will come from somewhat of a different perspective. Hope you enjoy!
Everything On My Plate
Do you ever ask yourself if it is worth it? That constant battle to get your kids to eat what is on their plates. Is it worth the dread that comes with the impending battle, instead of the anticipation of a pleasant family dinner? Is it really that important? Some people will tell you it is an old fashion child-rearing flaw. Others will tell you to “pick your battles”. Some regard it as unrealistic, others as an absolute necessity. So how do you know if the fight is worth it?
I grew up in a home where eating what you were served was an assumed part of every meal, with very few exceptions. But when I left home I discovered that, even among people that I agreed with on many other things, the differences of opinion on this matter were vast. At one point, I found myself as an assistant in an orphanage, assisting someone whose opinion on the matter was the complete opposite not only of my own, but also of the stance that the orphanage itself had taken. It turned what seemed such a trivial issue into a very difficult situation. And yet at the same time, I could not get away from the thought that maybe it was not as trivial as I thought.
One day during my devotions the Lord showed me exactly why it is not a trivial issue. The Scriptures have a lot to say about food and eating, and I confess that I have not studied every verse. But there is one particular moment that quickly puts this question into perspective.
Before I go there, however, I want to tell you about something that happened in a Russian hospital several years ago. My friend’s mother was in the hospital. It was near Christmas time, so we filled our backpacks with New Testaments and tracts, took a hymnal each and then, after visiting with her mother, went caroling on her floor of the hospital. Two ladies who worked on that floor were especially interested in what we were doing and invited us to share their lunch with them. We did not really want to because we did not want to take their lunch, but they assured us that they had plenty of food. One of them told us that her husband had just brought eggs for them from their farm and that she had enough eggs to last her two weeks. So, after much discussion they persuaded us. First we had tea, loose-leaf tea from a teapot that did not have a strainer and allowed some of the leaves to filter down into the bottom of our cups. Then the eggs were pulled out.
Now you must understand that I am not a big fan of boiled eggs as a general rule, though I have learned to eat them, and even occasionally do it on purpose. But that day, a boiled egg would have been welcome. I am sure my eyes must have been wide as I watched one of the women tap the top of the egg off with a spoon, sprinkle a little salt down into the shell and then – gulp, gulp – drink the egg right out of the shell. If that had been the end of it I probably would not remember this story, but that was not the end. We were next. Instinctively, I knew that I had to go first. To this day I remember the feeling of the yolk breaking as it hit my teeth and then sliding down my throat. But that was still not the end. One of the others in my group could not bring herself to drink the egg out of the shell, try though she did. So, she dumped it in her empty cup. But she still could not manage. The ladies had left the room and no one wanted to cause offense, so, I was asked to finish it off. I picked up the cup and looked at the mess in the bottom. You must understand that although her cup was empty of tea, the leaves from the tea remained behind and now swam in the somewhat broken egg. I looked from the cup to her and back again. I did my best, but once I got to the tea leaves, well, let us just say that I had to draw the line or give those dear ladies something else to clean up.
While I can look back at it now and laugh, at the time (and for most of that evening) my stomach was churning at the very thought of drinking something so horrible. But this was not the most horrible drink ever taken. Matthew 26 and Luke 22 give us the story of the most horrible drink in history. It was a drink that once taken meant torture, mocking, public defamation, abandonment by all and eventually death. It was a drink that would change the course of history. A drink of misery and woe. It was a drink whose prospective made the One who was to receive it plead for it to be removed with such fervency that His sweat was as great drops of blood falling to the ground.
And yet, that One received it. He put aside His will, His dread of the dregs at the bottom of that cup, and swallowed all of its pain for us. The result was our redemption. What if He had never learned to eat what was set before Him?
Learning to eat what is set before us seems almost like a pointless lesson. But when looked at in the light of Christ, there is nothing pointless about it. In a very real sense the lessons we learn with our food at the table are a huge part of our preparation for life. Food and our desire for it, as well as our control of that desire, have an enormous impact on how we live. Christ applied the principle of eating what was before Him to taking on the most repulsive challenge of His life on earth. Learning to eat what is set before us helps to prepare us to obediently take on whatever task the Lord gives us to do. Learning not to let our desire or dislike for some food control us strengthens our ability to make decisions based on God’s will rather than our wishes.
The Scriptures address murmuring and gluttony in the matter of food as well, neither have good outcomes. Teaching our children to be thankful and not lustful or greedy in their eating cannot help but slip over into other areas of life. Why? Because unless we have put God first, very often our god is our belly (Philippians 3:19). When we serve that god, it means we are serving out lusts. Learning a grateful, restrained and controlled approach to our dinner table leads to a grateful, restrained and controlled approach to many other parts of life, because one of our greatest weaknesses is under control.
Eating everything on our plate also has a “secret power” to open doors of opportunity. Recently, while in Kenya, the Lord gave me the great blessing of eating an almost entirely Kenyan diet. This means that mid-morning we had a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea, lunch we usually had Ugali (corn mush) and Steamed Collards, and for supper either a repeat of lunch or rice with a broth of some type on it. Occasionally, we had Githeri (Corn and Beans) or Chippati (a fried bread, similar to crepes). But for the most part our diet consisted of Ugali and Collards. Honestly, I like Ugali, but the fact that I ate it every meal, just like those around me and the fact that I was even willing to eat Black Ugali (made from a different grain) with my fingers instead of a spoon, not only helped me adapt to the culture around me, but helped the culture around me to adapt to me. The principle slipped over into other areas of my life and the neighbors watched from surrounding hilltops as I did my washing in the little basin in the yard, just like they did. They watched as I cut vegetables and washed dishes out on a table in the open air, just like they did. Many of them made comments to the missionaries about what they were seeing and wanted to find out more about the “Musungu” in their neighborhood. Their curiosity brought them out to Bible studies and Ladies’ Meetings. Their culture was the food that was on my plate. “Eating it” opened hearts and, therefore, doors to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So is it worth the battle? Yes, and more than worth it. This one little lesson, when taught consistently, with love and through much travail, will lead to fruit in the lives of your children more abundant than you will ever be able to count. Sometimes life hands us eggs and tea leaves, but when we have learned to receive the cup the Lord has given us and drink it, though it may be bitter going down, blessing ultimately follows.