Mashed potatoes. A small helping of simple, salted mashed potatoes. They weren’t laced with veggies or odd spices, they weren’t strange colors; they were just plain old starchy white mashed potatoes.
Yet, what ensued from the simple request to eat the mashed potatoes was nothing short of table trauma. You would think my children were on Fear Factor being forced to eat pregnant scorpions or cow intestines marinated in urine.
After weeping and gnashing of teeth and a few rounds of throw-up (yes, folks, that is right, we have overactive gag reflexes in this household), the children survived only slightly scarred. Their prayer requests that night at bedtime: that they would never have to eat mashed potatoes again.
While this was a particularly humorous and harrowing tale, dinner time at our house is no easy hour. The difference between a long coerced meal and a speedy, satisfactory meal can be surprisingly simple: hunger.
If my kids were starving, they would eat the mashed potatoes. They just aren’t hungry enough. New strategy: less snacks, more strenuous activity.
All joking aside, the Lord uses this strategy with His people with a surprising level of success. I know from experience, as did Moses and the wandering people he shepherded.
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or nor you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord…Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Deuteronomy 8:2-3 & 5 (emphasis mine).
Hungry people look for food, wait for food, pant for food. Hungry souls look, pant and wait for their God.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God when can I go and meet with God? Psalm 42:1-2.
When I feel a soul hunger pang or when I am in a prolonged season of hunger or privation spiritually, my first response is often to be frustrated at the Lord or myself or both. I shouldn’t feel this way, as it is uncomfortable. I’m doing what He asks of me, why won’t He just feed and satisfy me?
Just like my children when they have snacked all day, when we come to the table without real hunger, the meal can feel forced (which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep coming and forcing down the bites, by the way).
When the Lord allows us to live with spiritual hunger pangs, He is increasing our capacity to enjoy Him, to pant for Him, to feast on Him.
Being humbled and going hungry are not comfortable. But, as is clear in Deuteronomy, God uses these means as tools to teach us to rely on Him and trust Him to provide. He makes us hungry for Him, for His presence, for righteousness by sometimes lovingly withholding from us.
When we experience spiritual table trauma, when life leaves us spiritually starving, when meals that used to satisfy mock our deep hunger, we can trust that God only withholds to provide more of Himself.
For when we are hungry, we eagerly come to the table, enjoy the meal and leave with deeply grateful hearts and full tummies. Even for mashed potatoes.