It is pretty obvious from my other blog posts how much I love to travel. It fills me with excitement to plan a trip just as much as it does to be on the trip. Each part of the process (planning, travelling, returning) is ripe with opportunities for learning and growing.
Now my family going on a different type of journey – a journey of chronic illness. This journey is starting off the opposite of our physical journeys; it fills me with dread to schedule doctor’s appointments, plan special meals, and ponder what our future looks like. Each part of the process (testing, waiting, absorbing) is ripe with opportunities for disaster and failure. Epic failure. The kind of failure that could land my daughter in the hospital or dealing with life-long complications.
Over the last two weeks I have been scouring the internet for answers, I have bought 9 cookbooks, and I have even stumped Google with my questions. Apparently the journey we are on is the equivalent of taking the backroads across the country. You see, my daughter has Crohn’s disease and getting a pediatric diagnosis means that it’s extremely rare. To top it off, I am thoroughly convinced that diet plays a huge role in healing and managing a disease of the intestinal tract (how could it not?!). This means we are going dairy-free, sugar-free, and gluten-free, the whole family. This took our journey from the paved backroads onto the 4WD roads in the mountains.
And I don’t have a map.
I barely have a compass. (I mean, of course Jesus is my compass, but last I checked the Bible wasn’t full of specific advice on how to get a 9 year old to eat vegetables rather than nutella sandwiches.)
EEEEERRRRRRRTTTT (imagine brakes squealing)
Wait a minute! What does the Bible say about food and eating?
It turns out it says quite a lot! I have just started the process of looking through both Old and New Testaments for advice on getting a 9 year old to eat vegetables rather than nutella sandwiches. While it doesn’t specifically mention nutella, it does say quite a lot about human nature, our historical relationship with food, and God’s desires for us. Most of all, food in the Bible reveals magnificent truths about who God is.
Here are the top ideas I found just in Genesis.
1. God provides
As soon as Creation was complete, God spoke to Adam and Eve about food. Verse 29 in Genesis 1, “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.'” The very first way God provided for his people, was to make sure they knew what to eat.
My take away for my situation: planning is important and the kids need to know what to expect. Those nutella sandwiches were dependable and predictable for her. She knew how to make them and how they would make her feel. Taking that away is sure to cause anxiety and worry. I can alleviate that worry by planning and telling her what she can eat instead.
2. God gives us boundaries in regards to food
No sooner did God give them EVERY seed bearing plant on the face of the WHOLE earth then he also gave them a boundary for their own good. “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from ANY tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die'” (Gen 2:16 emphasis added). I noticed that God did not tell them they could not eat from the tree of life when I read Gen 3:22: “And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever.'” It’s important to note that God only said this after Adam and Eve disobeyed his first command.
Boundaries give us security and allow us to walk in freedom. Yes, I know that seems like an oxy moron, but it all depends on who sets the boundaries and how big they are. Worldly boundaries are narrow and hard to follow; they say things like, don’t eat bread it’s bad for you and cut calories so you can look better. God’s boundaries say, eat from any seed bearing plant on the face of the whole earth. Which one of these boundaries feels like it gives more freedom?
3. Human nature is to want what you can’t have
Adam and Eve revealed that all the trees and plants in the whole garden wasn’t enough for them when they went to hung out under the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They couldn’t help but gravitate toward the very edge of the boundary God had placed upon them.
I should expect my kids to push the boundaries I put in place in regards to food and not get upset when they do.
4. Our heart toward food matters in our heart toward God
Once they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve’s relationship with God was severed. They could no longer walk and talk freely with God in the Garden of Eden. From the very beginning food became something that took the place of God in their lives (in churchy talk we call that an idol).
The world tells me that I should be careful about how I present food to my kids because it could lead to body-image issues, eating disorders, or obesity. God tells me that I should trust him with my kids and food because he has a plan for them and it’s for their good. I can do my absolute best but my kids might still end up with health-issues that affect their relationship with food (enter Crohn’s). Ultimately, I’m not in the amount of control the world says I am. Our relationship with food can have eternal significance and that should be my ultimate focus for my kids – teaching them to worship God rather than their stomachs and taste buds.
5. Relationships are built around food
Now let’s get away from the first three chapters of the first book of the Bible. (Can you believe all that wisdom was just in the first 3 chapters?! I couldn’t! That’s why I love Bible study so much; it is so full and so enlightening!) For the purpose of this blog post, I’m going to jump over chapters 4-17 of Genesis. These chapters talk more about how God continued to provide for his creation, including the stories of Cain & Able, Noah, and their descendants.
Chapter 18 drops us into the middle of the story of Abraham, a man who talked with God. Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent in the mid-day heat when the Lord appeared to him. The first thing Abraham did when he saw the three men (evidence for the Trinity, in case that distinction is confusing) was offer then water to wash with and bread to eat. Once they accepted his invitation, he pulled out all the stops: asking Sarah to make her best bread and having a servant prepare a choice, tender calf. He also brought them curds and milk. In short, he scurried to prepare a feast.
While they were eating, they repeated to Abraham the promise God had made to make him a great nation. And Abraham finally got an exact date on the promise (“Then one of them said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son'” (18:10)). Only once they had eaten did they begin discussing the purpose of their visit – to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Because they had build relationship over a meal, Abraham had the courage to ask for leniency on behalf of the residents of those cities.
The Old Testament is full of stories about both feasts and simple meals being the backdrop for important discussions and decisions. In my own house, I should not underestimate the value of discussing things after a meal, and I should be sure to value the time spent together over a meal. Eating shouldn’t be a solidary task done as quickly as possible. The time that goes into the selection, the preparation, and the enjoyment are all part of the opportunity to build stronger relationships and family ties.
6. Food can reunite families through God’s ultimate plan
Speaking of family ties, consider the impact of food on the relationships between Joseph and his brothers. This story appears at the end of Genesis; when Joseph was young he aggravated his older brothers (all 10 of them) so much that they decided to sell him to slave traders and tell their father a wild animal had eaten him. Joseph ended up in Egypt and in a position of authority to protect the country from a severe famine. Check out Genesis 41 for the whole story.
Joseph’s planning and preparation not only saved the people of Egypt but it became a beacon of hope for the people in surrounding nations as well. Genesis 42 says, “When Jacob (Joseph’s father) learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, ‘Why do you just keep looking at each other?’ He continued, ‘I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us so that we may live and not die.'” Genesis 42 also tells us, “Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger” (42:6-7). Then begins the great charade!
The grain that Joseph stored up in preparation for the famine became the reason his brothers came to Egypt, the way he found out his father and brothers were still alive, the way he brought his whole family (all 66 of them) to Egypt. Food was the central method God used to fulfill his purpose, to humble Jacob’s sons, and to reunite the people of Israel. Therefore, it’s okay for food to be the central focus of my family right now. The message I hear from the world is that there are more important things to focus on than food, that I should rely on convenience food so that I can run around doing all the things, that too much focus on food will lead to body-image issues and eating disorders. God says differently, and I would a thousand times rather listen to him than to the ever-changing opinions of the world.
We are now 6 weeks out from our diagnosis of Crohn’s, and we’ve learned a lot about the disease and food. Did you know Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease? It causes the body to attack the digestive tract anywhere from the mouth to the colon. It is a highly individualized disease, impacting people in such a varied manner that it is nearly impossible to find a general treatment regimen. Yes, there are medications to treat it but when combined with a healthy diet the amount of medication needed reduces significantly. Western medicine wants to say that diet only plays a small part. Homeopathic medicine says that diet is critical in managing the disease. While Crohn’s is not fatal, if left untreated it can lead to significant problems that may ultimately lead to premature death (things like malnutrition and bowel strictures leading to removal of the colon or parts of the intestines).
We are wrapping our heads around what this all means for our family. Mostly it means that our social lives will look different since we can’t eat the same stuff we used to. More of our time will be spent in the kitchen and pouring over cookbooks as we transition to a paleo diet. Most importantly, though, it means that our whole family will be healthier and happier as we join together over fresh food from “every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it” (Gen 1:29) and plenty of meat as well!