Thursday, March 26, 2009

dieting and gluttony (8) gluttony and selfishness

Okay, I already know this is going to be an excruciatingly embarrassing post to write. But since I face no temptation which "is not common to man" - and woman (1 Cor 10:13), you might find it helpful, so here goes.

Perfectionist that I am, growing in godliness easily turns into a self-improvement program for me. "The self-help program to end all self-help programs! Become a Christian! Suddenly, you won't just care about murder - you'll care about whether you have angry thoughts (Matt 5:21f )! All the more for you to work on!" It's bizarrely attractive to an introspective perfectionist like me.

One of the problems with this is that issues of godliness (gluttony? spending? pride?) become more about me, and less about love. I can spend hours peering into my guts, working out why I do things, trying to change the way I think and feel. Some of that is useful, some of it isn't. But it's easy for me to neglect "more important matters" like love, justice and mercy (Matt 23:23, Mk 12:33).

When I wrote my blog series on gluttony and dieting, I was fascinated by what I read about idolatry and self-control, because it fed into my self-absorption. But when I read about gluttony and how it destroys social relationships? Well, frankly, I was kind of bored by it, unless it was about me and my family.

Oh, dear. And I've only just begun.


A few weeks ago I became my own illustration of the link between gluttony and selfishness.

It was our monthly dinner night at church, when everyone brings food to share. I always try to take something gluten free for my husband and daughter, so I ordered two gluten free chickens from the local chicken shop. We arrived at church, and I started jointing them (one of the few cooking tasks I love, oddly!) and putting the pieces on a couple of plastic plates.

A man approached. I know he's a man in need, who comes to church for food as well as fellowship. To my shame, I actually moved my precious gluten free chickens away, so they wouldn't disappear before my family were fed. Yes, my family have special dietery needs, but a couple of pieces of chicken wouldn't have been missed.

How often our instantaneous actions reveal what's in our hearts! - in this case, favouritism and a lack of mercy (Jam 2:1-13).


It's time to eat. The food is laid enticingly on the tables. Actually, some of it is more enticing than others. There's a delicious looking curry: not much, that might go soon, better get some! Oh, look, garlic bread: better watch out, that always goes fast!

One thing about having kids (especially a 5 year old who's crying because he's tired, hungry, and he just fell over and hurt himself) is that you have a perfect excuse to go to the front of the queue (and believe me, this is a lo-o-ong queue, the kind you don't want to be at the end of when there's delicious food on offer).

I grab a plastic plate - a pile of plastic plates (I have a lot of kids) - and squeeze my way guiltily into the queue, hoping no-one notices, or that if they do, they think "Caring parent. Hungry kids." I load my kids' plates.

I load my plate. I get the last spoonful of that yummy looking curry, no matter that someone else might like some. Lasagne! How can I miss that? I know my plate is full, but I just have to try it!

I return to the table, less intent on feeding my kids than on my over-full plate. A friend is sitting at the table, but I'm less interested in encouraging her than in hoping she hasn't noticed how much I'm eating.

That night, I wake at 3 pm feeling nauseous, and lie awake for an hour wondering if I poisoned everyone. It turns out to be a nasty virus - nothing to do with the chickens. But it's pretty clearly something to do with God's fatherly discipline (Heb 12:7-11).


In the morning, to my horror, it dawns on me: I'm a Corinthian (1 Cor 11:17-34)! I wasn't drunk at a fellowship meal, but I did treat it as a chance to stuff my face rather than to encourage those who ate with me.

I prioritised protecting our family chicken(!) over caring for someone in real need. I put my own wants and greedy desires over the needs, wants and desires of others. And if I'm sick, like the Corinthians, perhaps it has something to do with my loveless greed.

The link between gluttony and selfishness suddenly becomes excruciatingly clear. When I'm concentrating on what I'm putting in my mouth, I'm not concentrating on encouraging others. Like a pig at the feeding trough, I'm guzzling down as much as I can, rather than making sure others' needs are being met.


Two weeks later, I'm at church again. It's supper-time.

Someone has brought some delicious Asian dumplings. I haven't had dinner, and I'm hungry. There are 4 dumplings left on the plate. I take 1 and eat it. I'm about to take another.

My needy friend approaches. The thought flashes through my mind: should I take a dumpling before he takes them all? This time, the instantaneous decision goes the other way. I watch, rejoicing, as he takes the last 3 dumplings and puts them on his plate.

Love before greed: it's a good feeling.


God doesn't change me so that I can feel better about myself. He doesn't change me so that I can become perfect within, a mirror for my own admiration. True change results in someone who's less self-absorbed, more self-forgetful, focussed on the needs of others. Change is not about self-improvement: it's about love.

Slowly but surely, right in step with God's program for change, I'm becoming more like Jesus: the One who loved good food, but who loved God and people more (Lk 7:34, Jn 2:1-11, Matt 4:1-11).

images are from stock.xchng


charissa said...

Great post Jean.
Thanks for being so honest. I too have a horrible tendency to be slef-absorbed even in my pursuit of godliness. Your words hit home and your conclusions are just what I need to hear at the moment.

Jean said...

Yes, it's funny how self-absorbed we can be, isn't it? Thank God for his mercy! I pray we would learn to look at Jesus more than at ourselves.

Melissa Huizinga said...

Thanks for this post! It's a great one and very thought-provoking. How we need to put others before self!

Jean said...

Thanks, Melissa.

Rachach said...

Hmmmmm, food for thought Jean!

Jean said...

Food for thought, but not for the waistline ...

Anonymous said...

It's very selfish to eat in a way that is detrimental to your health and being a burden to one's family. Nothingtastes as good as healthy feels.