To my picky eater

Darling child,

Tonight I served green eggs and ham for dinner. The irony was completely lost on you.

Green Eggs and Ham

You pushed it away without trying a bite, just as you do with most of the the conventionally colored meals we eat the remainder of the week.

I do not like them Sam-I-am.

You are probably as relieved as I am that we don’t fight about it anymore. The bribes to eat, the threat of punishment, the starving-you-out, the timer… all of those tactics produced zero eating and a multitude of stress.

Not in a car, Not in a tree.
I do not like them, Sam, you see.
Not in a house. Not in a box.
Not with a mouse. Not with a fox.
I will not eat them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere!

I’m glad we’re past that. Now we both know that you eat for YOU, not for me, and we are both the better for it.

But just because we don’t fight about it doesn’t mean I don’t care what you eat, because I care immensely.

You see, there are many different reasons to eat. Most of the world eats because they’re hungry. They eat whatever is put in front of them, because the choice is the little on the plate before them, or hours of painful hunger. Hunger is a great reason to eat.

Those with slightly more resources eat to be healthy. They have a choice, and need to choose a balance of foods to give them energy and nutrients. Food is human-fuel. Energy for living is a great reason to eat.

(As an aside, sweetie, there are many that eat for comfort, hoping that the full feeling in their tummies will somehow make the ache in their soul-hole go away. Your mama is one who too often eats to feed her feelings, and I’m working hard to know when my soul needs Jesus-food rather than ice-cream. Sadness is not a great reason to eat.)

Sweetheart, in this land-of-abundance we call home – we have never gone hungry, and we are spoilt for choice. So you don’t eat meat? That’s okay – there are a dozen other protein choices for you. You don’t like what’s on the menu? That’s okay, another snack or meal will be served within hours. Even as a picky eater, you can still never have to deal with hunger, and you can still find a healthy, balanced diet among these options.

My precious child, I am not worried that you will be hungry, and I am not worried about your health. The thing that concerns me most is not that you are missing out on food. The thing that concerns me is that you are worried out on what food represents: relationships.

Yes, we eat to abate hunger and to fuel our lives, but more than that I want you to know that food is the centerpiece of us living our lives together. We eat for joy. We eat in community. We eat for shared experience and shared conversations. We eat to welcome people into our home, and we show our acceptance of hospitality and welcome in their lives by accepting the cup of tea and plate of food which is passed our way. Meals together are the bedrock of friendships and communities: a shared pot is a shared life.

Dining together celebrates the diversity of cultures and tastes in God’s big world. A bite of a foreign dish is, quite literally, a taste of their world.

So, my beloved one, when Mommy urges you to try a bite, please know that it’s not because I’m afraid you’ll miss out on calories or calcium. It’s because I’m afraid you will miss out on community. I’m concerned your pickiness will, if left unchecked, lead you to say no to tastes and flavors of friendship. I’m afraid it will cause offense among those who might risk opening their lives and homes to you. I don’t want you to miss out on ministry and missions trips and pizza nights with friends because the food-issue causes so much tension.

I could not, would not, on a boat.
I will not, will not, with a goat.
I will not eat them in the rain.
I will not eat them on a train.

I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them ANYWHERE!

Your Daddy and I sometimes joke among ourselves that perhaps, one day, there will be a boy you like, and he will ask you out on a date and will take you somewhere special. We joke that he will order a dinner filled with tastes and textures you have never tried before, and that you – starry eyed and hormonal – will choose to try a hamburger for the first time rather than hurt the feelings of the anxious youth with the cute haircut and nervous smile. We tell ourselves that maybe, on that day, you will – for the sake of nascent love – sink your teeth into something new and say:

I like green eggs and ham!
I do!! I like them, Sam-I-am!

Because love is a great reason to eat.

you might also like: a mixed bag…. and my only original and best parenting tip

the pair at the door

Last week I had an encounter that just about broke my heart.

It was around dinner-time and the pots were boiling, counters were cluttered, kids were clamoring. You know, the regular 6pm drill. A knock on the door announced the arrival of two fresh-faced Mormon missionaries. (Aside: The older I get the stranger it seems to greet these youngsters as they ask to be called: “Elder Smith” and “Elder Mason”, but anyway….)

So there were two Mormons at the door, wanting to chat.

In years past, I have sent them away: courteous but dismissive (No thanks, I already have faith in Jesus. Good bye)

In years past I have invited them in and been passionate but argumentative (No! That’s not what the Bible says. Where do you find that?)

In years past I have invited them in and tried to be courteous but still landed up feeling argumentative (I’m sorry, that’s not what the Bible says).

In all these interactions, I have always had my ‘defensive guard’ on, seeing myself as defending the gospel that God freely GIVES us His favor through Jesus, contrary to their message that you have to WORK to attain God’s favor.. I have viewed them as Pharisees: self-righteous and preaching a burdensome message that you have to attain your own righteousness before God. And like the Pharisees in the gospels, I have seen them opponents Jesus silenced, rebuked, corrected.

Until last night.

Last night our kids were around and Jeremy was talking with them at the door, and on a whim I invited them to our dinner table. I warned them that there would be no arguing at our dinner table in front of the kids and that they had to “play nice”. And I asked questions: how did you come to be a missionary? where are you from? how long are you into your stint? how long have you been in Davis? How are you doing being so far away from home? And friends, i discovered some heartbreaking things.

These young guys, full of sincerity and zeal, take a 2 year commitment believing they are earning God’s favor by doing so. They are not allowed to call home except on Christmas and Mothers day. But they are allowed to write once a week, they hastily assured me.

I asked the more argumentative of the two about his reasons for deciding to go on a mission. He told us that his parents’ marriage hadn’t been doing well and that he hoped that, by going on the mission, Heavenly Father would bless his family and perhaps spare his parents’ marriage.

Friends, I nearly burst into tears on the spot. For years, I have seen these travelers as young Pharisees. But last week I saw them in a completely new way. I saw the Rich Young Ruler, coming to Jesus full of earnest desire to do right.

“Teacher,” he said, “What must I do to possess eternal life?”

“You know the commandments” said Jesus.

He heard Jesus, but didn’t hear him. “Teacher, all of these I have kept since I was a boy.”

And Mark 10 says that Jesus looked at him and loved him. For all his misguided zeal. For all his sincerity.

Sitting at our dinner table, I looked at these young guys and loved them. How lonely they must be! How hard to be away from your family for 18 months – hoping every day your parents will stay together and finding out 7 months later when you are finally allowed to call that dad has moved to Texas and they split up anyway. How lonely to have no-one call you by your first name for TWO YEARS. I bet no-one has hugged them in as long either.

Our dinner was cut short as they had another appointment to go to. But as they left, the one young ‘Elder’ thanked us warmly. Tearing up, he said that no one had ever invited him in in the 18 months he had been door to door, and we had no idea what this meant to him.

I was so stunned. And so ashamed. After they left I prayed for them and wept for them. I asked God to forgive me for the many, many times I bludgeoned young visitors like them with the Bible instead of loving them as the Lord does. All those years I was hoping I would be able to show them what real Christianity looked like, but I had failed to listen to what Jesus had said: “they will know we are christians by our love.”

I write this as a confession. And I write this because Hebrews says we should consider how we can spur one another on to love and good deeds. Believing friends: next time two young guys knock on your door, invite them in. Love them. They don’t need answers as much as they need grace, and we have access to storehouses of it.