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I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling like things are a little bit all over the place these days. I’m excited about a new ministry season. I’m sad it won’t be exactly how I imagined it. I’m nervous about the election and desperately ready for it to be over. I’m homesick. I’m finding deep joy in fall days and bonfires with friends. And underneath is this ache, a longing, for life to be…something more than the sum of all these things.
A friend and mentor suggested I read Chuck DeGroat’s book Wholeheartedness: busyness, exhaustion, and healing the divided self. In it DeGroat talks about our “desperate hunger” for a satisfying and fulfilling life, the shame of not experiencing that life as we believe we ought, and the desire to rid ourselves of that shame by making it appear as though we are living that life. And because we don’t want to admit that we’re desperate, that we have shame, DeGroat says we either run away from our need or find a surface-level solution.
“Like a ravenous teenager, we’ll satisfy the immediate hunger pangs with a drive-through cheeseburger thirty minutes before dinner rather than waiting for the feast that Dad and Mom are preparing at home” (p. 18).
We find the quick fix, says DeGroat – the new phone that will make us more productive, the online dating app that will make us feel less lonely, the quick weekend getaway that will give us a break. But none of these things actually satisfies us or meets the real need or fills us up or makes us whole. The underlying hunger remains.
I’m very familiar with the quick fix, the easy meal. Jimmy John’s is, in my opinion, a perfectly adequate dinner option. As is a box of Kraft Dinner. But the quick fix was leaving me feeling sluggish and unhealthy. So this month I tried something different and a little drastic. Today marks Day 25 of a Whole30. Day 25 of eating nothing but vegetables, fruit, and meat. No soy, no dairy, no gluten, no sugar, no alcohol, no legumes (which means no peanut butter because in a cruel twist of fate apparently peanuts are in fact not a nut, but a legume). The idea is to feed your body whole foods for thirty days, eliminating any and all foods that have ever caused anyone any kind of ailment or discomfort, and then slowly reintroduce them one by one to find out what foods work best for you.
To be honest, I’m surprised at how well it’s gone. I haven’t cheated, haven’t given up, and what’s more, I’m actually rather enjoying it. I don’t think I’ll ever prefer zucchini noodles over penne, and some evenings I’d give anything for just a taste of gouda, but on the whole this has been a really good experience and has left me feeling healthier than ever.
The biggest change I’ve experienced though is a lifestyle one. With Jimmy John’s and KD off the table, I’ve been making all my meals, working through a Whole30 approved cookbook, trying to be creative with my limited options, taking the time to make something tasty.
This whole cooking thing might not be revolutionary for you, but it has been for me. The act of slowing down, doing the work, creating something, and then enjoying the fruit (or vegetables or meat) of my labor.
On Saturday, while making a ragu, I listened to a podcast with Andrew Root on his new book, The pastor in a secular age. Root talks about secularism ala Charles Taylor, and the crisis we face, the vacuum of common meaning or shared purpose that plagues our present moment. And I wondered, as I chopped carrots, what “wholeheartedness” looks like for our culture, for our institutions. We have a deep hunger for flourishing but can’t seem to agree on what that flourishing looks like. We want our lives to mean something but don’t know what provides that sense of meaning. Is it religion? Success? Popularity? Wealth? Security? Country?
We try to satiate our hunger with all sorts of things, to find the quick fix that will fill the void. We look to church growth, strategic plans, new structures, logos and catch phrases, a general lack of tension. But behind our shiny new logos and that apparent lack of tension we’re still polarized, still fragmented, still anxious, still disappointed, still hungry. The happy meals don’t satiate the hunger.
Well I’m a pastor, so obviously the answer is Jesus.
But I don’t just mean that flippantly or casually, as though by saying “we all believe in Jesus” we’ll somehow magically solve all our problems. Saying that Jesus makes us whole and knowing that Jesus makes us whole are two different things. To know takes contemplation. It takes practice. It takes work. It takes getting to know ourselves and getting to know each other and getting to know God’s Word. It takes patience, and a willingness to enter tension, to let things get messy, to acknowledge the need.
But there’s a feast to be had in the mess, in the work. A feast we partake of every time we come to the table of wine and bread and remember that Jesus entered the mess to make us whole. And a feast we imitate in our own kitchens and cafeterias and fellowship halls when we do the work of serving one another, listening to one another, being truthful with one another, acknowledging each other’s belovedness, confessing to one another, forgiving one another, being silent together, rejoicing together. When we’re vulnerable and honest – to ourselves and each other – and compassionate, to ourselves and each other.
And maybe, if we’re willing to put in the time and enter the mess, and bring our whole selves with all our needs and desires and wonderings and hopes, each an ingredient to be added to the pot; if we look for meaning together, if we seek to know Jesus together, we’ll find that the cooking is the feast. The work is the reward. The seeking is the answer. Because Jesus meets us in our vulnerability and gives us everything of which we stand in need. Jesus feeds the hungry and does so abundantly. Jesus holds all things together. Jesus makes us whole.
Seems worth the time in the kitchen to me.
In this wilderness time our longing is felt deeply. Thank you for expressing so well the fruits of your contemplation. So often things become more clear as we are engaged in the actual work of nurture, including the exploration of what is best for our bodies. Food for my soul today.
Thanks, Laura, for your description of being a wholehearted Christian. I think that most Christians would agree with you, at least in theory. Carrying it out in practice is the trick, as is sticking to a new comprehensive diet (or life style change), and sticking to it indefinitely. Sticking to the wholehearted lifestyle and philosophy of Christianity dictates that you focus solely on the center, Jesus, and as you say, “not flippantly or casually” but wholeheartedly.
Sounds like a cult doesn’t it? And we all fear cults. “Cult Research” describes a cult as, – “A cult is a group or movement held together by a shared commitment to a charismatic leader or ideology. It has a belief system that has the answers to all of life’s questions and offers a special solution to be gained only by following the leader’s rules. It requires a high level of commitment from…” – I wonder what our culture is thinking. Doesn’t the alternative lifestyle you describe sound a lot like a cult to our culture? I know of a lot of people who find fulfillment in life apart from Jesus, as well as a lot of people supporting your thesis who don’t. Thanks, again, Laura.
I probably shouldn’t post this. You mentioned “the mess.” I served a church that insisted that when communion over, everything on the table be neatly and carefully covered with a cloth and then the tablecloth over the whole thing. It seems to me this just moves the “Supper” farther from reality. When we finish eating at the dining room table at home, we don’t drape a clean white cloth over the table. When we’re done it is a mess. We pick up dirty dishes and clean up the best we can. People like me spill and drop crumbs. You can look and see someone was eating and drinking there. I love watching male colleagues in the ministry whom I know daintily remove the coverings from the bread and neatly fold them and place them carefully aside. I know some of them are slobs just like me and I chuckle to myself seeing how prissily (the word might be a blend of prim and sissy) they handle the cloths. Come on! That’s not how you eat a meal! I am careful with the sacrament, don’t get me wrong. But haven’t we moved too far away from the NT practice of it being a meal? Don’t you think it was messy when the ancient church finished the communion meal? Drips of the tablecloth. Lipstick on the cups. Pieces of food falling from the table and the dog eagerly gobbling them down? The Last Supper was nothing if not messy. The disciples had been drinking and Jesus was talking about betrayal and death and washing their feet. Egads! Talk about messy. Bob Luidens, in his brook, “The Kingdom Will Come Anyway,” tells of the first time he celebrated the sacrament in his new church. The dear faithful ladies had filled the chalice to the brim and when Bob lifted it, it sloshed over robe and down onto the spotless gleaming white tablecloth. Mortified? Nothing was said. The next time communion was celebrated Bob was amazed how clean they had gotten the tablecloth and to his happy surprise, the cup was not nearly as full. Bob writes, “That’s when and how I learned about grace.” Which leads to the question, “Shall we spill the more that grace may abound?” Had not Bob made a mess, he would never have had that experience of grace that he is carrying in his heart the rest of his life. Reverent? Yes. Respectful? Yes. Careful Yes. Messy? You decide. I already have.
Well said friend. Thankful for you!