An open letter to my friend Paula (not her real name)...
I've known you for many years now. I love you like a...well, somewhere between a daughter and a sister, since you fall sort of in the generation between my kids and me. You may have moved a thousand miles away from us, but you are and will always be very dear to me. I've watched you start and raise a family and grow in your marriage, in your role as a mother and friend, and in your walk with God. I'm blessed to know you, more now than ever.
But there's a topic I've wanted to open up with you for a long time, and it seems that the longer I wait, the harder it gets. Not only might you be angry with me, you might also wonder why in the world I waited so long if I feel so strongly about it. And the only answer I can give you is that...I used to be you. Not in all the specifics, maybe, but enough so that I feel for what your reaction might be and it's made me reluctant to go there. I've told myself it's none of my business, that I don't want to sacrifice the sweetness of our friendship over a temporal issue. But there is something, and you'll understand in a few years, about passing 50 that bestows a boldness that I wouldn't have had in my 30's...and I am just going to trust that you'll hear my love for you and Brad and the kids in what I'm going to say.
The topic is....food.
Even as I write the word, I envision that you know where I'm going. It's been unspoken between us but it's no secret that our paths have diverged farther and farther in the time we've known you. I've watched you become more and more focused on every bite of food that goes in your mouths, spending almost inhuman amounts of time looking for the raw, the organic, the range-fed, the stone-ground, the unpasteurized, the gluten-free, the additive-free, the fat-free, the hormone-free, the antibiotic-free, the caffeine-free, the preservative-free. Part of me has always admired your quest for the best, especially since I remember the days of doing much the same. I was so afraid of Nabisco's additives (and their evil motives), I baked my own graham crackers. No, we hated them, but hey, they were good for us.
Not everything I made out of 100% pure ingredients tasted bad. Most of it was great, after some tweaking. But not all of it was good for us. It might have been good for our insides, b
ut it was bad for our souls. And that's what I want to share with you.
Paula, in the time I've known you I've watched you become more and more fearful that you or Brad or the kids will put something in your sandwich that will hurt you or cause cancer or autism or hyperactivity or reduce the baby's IQ. You spend hours reading conflicting opinions and stress out over this month's warnings against the thing that was allowed last month. And that fear is showing on your faces, and it's beginning to separate you from the people you love. Grandma can't bring candy...Grandad can't take the kids to MickyD's...friends have become afraid to invite your family for a meal or a picnic...birthday parties get whispered about behind your back because there'll be hot dogs and cupcakes...and you are more and more uncomfortable at your church potlucks. You want to be part of a community, but you're allowing yourself to be isolated and divided from the very people you need and who need you. You're missing out on the fellowship that goes hand in hand with food. I know you believe you're doing what's right, but I want you to consider that you might be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
All through the Bible we are presented with beautiful pictures of food as communion. Whether it's in Old Testament narratives, Gospel parables, Jesus' institution of the Lord's Supper, Paul's letters, or the picture of the wedding feast in Revelation, the meal is presented as something sacred. Not that the food itself is sacred in the sense that an offering at the altar was (though we have evidence that this was sometimes the case), but the event of sharing food together as an act of signifying unity, oneness, hospitality, reconciliation, blessing, commitment. Can you imagine the angels, having been offered the meal that Sarah prepared, stopping in horror to ask if there was Red Dye #3 in the smoked lamb chops? Okay, of course there was no such thing then, but can you imagine what it would have done to the spirit of that meal for the angels to query about every ingredient? Or if the widows, getting their daily food rations from the deacons in the early church, had read the latest Prevention magazine and refused all the bread with grain that had been exposed to heat in the grinding process or started passing out pamphlets about the dangers of yeast?
Admittedly, these are over-the-top examples. But I believe they make the point that there is a sacredness in the meal
, not in the food. Some of us (including me at times) have been guilty of making food a near object of worship and in that process we've destroyed the richness of eating together
. We've become guilty of worshipping, not just caring for, the temple of the Holy Spirit rather than worshipping the Inhabitor of the temple. We've become guilty of consuming parallel meals, but not ones with a spirit of communion. We've taken a gift that God graciously bestows on individuals, families, churches, and communities, and decided that we'll turn it into a science. Worse yet, we've deluded ourselved that we can add a single day to our lives by our own efforts. We've instilled fear and confusion and suspicion in our children against the very people we pray will influence them to become godly adults. And we've created division in our families, denying our husbands a beloved treat with a lecture on how dangerous it is.
Please don't misunderstand: I applaud your desire to serve your family healthy meals and to plan snacks and treats with care, especially for your little one with genuine food allergies. But I implore you, while the kids are still under your influence, not to alienate them from each other and from friends and extended family and their church family by the very thing that God gave to bind you together. The subtle messages that you send them by not allowing them to eat what their friends' mothers have prepared are not ones that will be easily erased. They will carry those messages into their relationships and their marriages, and the results may be whole foods but less than whole souls.
I want you in my home for dinner. But I want you to enjoy what I prepare and not feel you have to bring your own food. I want to spend our mealtime nourishing our friendship and not just our bodies. I don't want to have your husband or kids look longingly at one of the dishes but know that they can't risk your displeasure by partaking.
Eat with joy! And don't mistake your own joy for the joy of your family and friends...you may very well be building walls instead of bridges without even realizing it.
Please know that I say these things in love and out of a great respect for who you are and what you are building. You've accepted my counsel and my insight in many areas through the years...I hope you'll at least prayerfully consider a part of what I've shared here and see your task of providing nourishment to your family with a longer view and a more relaxed outlook. :-)
With grateful eyes on Him,