The Recipe for Faith

I lost 15 pounds in two weeks.

I am not saying this in triumph, either; I am not holding the waistband of my jeans out in joy like a bad Jenny commercial.

While my doctor could not give me a definitive answer, as we were waiting for test results to come back, she told me that I was most likely suffering from some form of anxiety-induced stomach trouble, exhaustion, mild depression, or a combination of the three.

Frankly, as horrible as that news was, I was just grateful it wasn’t worse.

But all the same, the doctor placed me on a diet of no lactose, no junky food, and not too much fiber (I wanted to clean myself out but not that much).

The juxtaposition between my two diets is a stark one – on campus I was either forgetting to eat, not eating so as to avoid throwing up, or simply eating whatever snacks I could find on the shelf or in the freezer when I came home from work or the library at midnight.

And here at home?

I was eating more grain. More vegetables. I was helping my mother make dinner from scratch, which took time and effort and a little sweat, but it was more fulfilling in the long run.

One of my role models, the youth minister I work with to teach religious education to middle school kids, gives a talk every year to recently confirmed eighth graders about dieting.

Sort of.

She opens her Bible and starts out with a story about Abraham. We all know it well.

God tells Abraham to look up into the sky – count the stars, Abram! So shall your descendants be as numerous as they who dot the sky!

God is generous indeed!

“And yet…” my youth minister goes on.

Verse 12, “Then, as the sun was setting…” – and she stops.

Has the sun not already set? Has Abraham not been counting stars all this time?

No, indeed, he has not.

For you see, readers, God brings Abraham outside to count the stars in broad daylight.

Stars, in broad daylight? Is God dumb?

Is this a trick?

Is this God simply making a fool of Abraham?

No…for it says back in verse six, after God tells Abraham that his children will number more than the stars, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to Him as righteousness.”

Abraham was sent by God to count the stars, and seeing none, he believed God anyway.

Aha! – here it is. The difference between what my youth minister says is a “baby food faith” and a “meat and potatoes faith.”

Here the kids giggle.

I lean in, breath baited – for this is my favorite part of the story.

When we are chubby babies, with spotty toothed grins and sticky thick fingers, we are given our food presented on a cushioned spoon. It is hand-fed to us, and we need not even use our jaws as the food is already smooth goodness and most likely sickly sweet or Baby will spit it back out.

When we are given spiritual highs on retreats, exciting “hallelujah!” homilies, embroidered journal covers, rock band worship sessions, and miraculous signs in answer to our fleeces, we are being hand-fed baby food, on a little silver spoon with our names engraved on the handle.

It is the meat and potatoes faith, the faith that expects us to sit up straight elbows down chin up and no talking with your mouth full, Anna, for goodness sake, that challenges us to believe in the stars even when we can’t count them.

The meat and potatoes faith, the one that is sometimes hard to chew, hard to enjoy, hard to swallow, and sits like rocks in our stomachs, it is that faith that we are called to consume when the jars of pureed green beans is scraped dry.

It is that faith, that faith that is nourishing, helps us to grow, helps us to be strong and bright and fit, that we are called to consume when Mommy tosses the empty jar of sugary Motts.

Abraham, my son – go outside in broad daylight, look up at the sky, what do you see? Your descendants will be as numerable as the stars you see dotting the sky!

I speak for Abraham when I say that I see absolutely nothing.

And at the risk of calling You a liar…I’m just going to go along with it and believe you.

I lost 15 pounds in 2 weeks.

I was too busy with work and finals and studying and attending the needs of friends and enemies alike, disregarding my own needs.

I just simply forgot to eat.

Or I quickly microwaved a soggy dinner, picked at it, grumbled, had a bag of pretzels and a candy bar instead.

Or I tried to eat something that I actually put effort into purchasing from the cafeterias, but was rewarded for my actions with a rousing case of stomach acrobatics.

You see, some of us have passed the baby food stage, and some of us have yet to reach the meat and potatoes stage.

Some of us are just stuck in the processed packaged preservatives faith.

And what did it get me?

15 pounds lighter.

And not the good kind.

When we are too busy, too tired, too lazy, too sick – when we disregard our health, we lose weight.

And when we disregard our faiths and spiritual health, we just simply lose.

Our physical health can only be at its best if we exercise, eat properly, avoid a sickness.

Even if we buy all the exercise videos in the world, and some shiny new equipment, what good does it do if we use them for decorations?

Imagine if we lived on baby food for the entirety of our lives. How emaciated would we be with no meat and potatoes.

And how silly – really, how dumb – would we be if we hung out with people whom we knew had mono, and leprosy, and all sorts of other contagious diseases, and expected to come out healthy at the end of the day?

Why do we go through such pains to ensure that we are physically healthy, when it isn’t our physical health that we take with us when we die? And we all will die, no matter how many cookies you pass on and miles you run.

My youth minister makes the point that Confirmation is a welcoming to adulthood in the faith.

And when we reach adulthood, we put the baby food aside.

But how many of us reach for the frozen dinners, the prepackaged snacks, rather than putting in the time to make something healthier from scratch?

To be honest, I did that for an entire semester.

Fifteen pounds lighter on the physical scale, and an un-measurable amount sicker on the spiritual scale.

I was hanging out with people who were contagious, but I wasn’t taking the precautions to ensure that I didn’t get sick. I was watching Netflix instead of going to the gym. I was eating ice cream and a frozen mac n cheese dinner at midnight – which could very well have been the only thing I’d eaten all day.

When the kids giggle at the analogies my youth minister uses, when they think about the ridiculousness of an adult being spoon fed baby food (how silly!), I lean in, eager to hear more of the wisdom – because I’m the adult that understands why people revert to baby food after the harsh reality of making a full healthy meal every night.

Baby food faith is easier. Seemingly more rewarding. Passionate. Fun.

Meat and potatoes faith is healthier in the long run, yes, but it takes work. Not just work to cook, but work to chew, work to swallow, work to digest.

But – in the back of my mind, I hear his voice yet again – nothing worth having comes easy.

Nothing worth having comes easy, Anna, how many times have I told you that?

I hang my head in shame on the bathroom scale, looking pitifully at my collar bone and ribs.

Nothing worth having comes easy, so what are you doing with your health?

I hide my baby food jars and packaged dinners behind my back, hoping no one will see what I’ve sunk to.

On the outside, I looked good. I mean, I was light to begin with but 15 pounds lighter and I didn’t even have baby fat to my name.

On the outside, I looked happy, carefree, a typical college student who was staying up late, living wild, loving life.

But at home, in the dark and the quiet, I suffered and relayed all my troubles to a small carton of ice cream that cost five dollars of money I didn’t have.

I won’t say I had an eating disorder. I was simply too stressed, and the doctors agreed on that.

But I will say that my faith was disordered.

Go outside and count the stars, Abram. What do you see?

Uh, well, actually God, to be honest…absolutely nothing.

Then sit down and eat your meat and potatoes, and just trust me.

Why does it always come back to trust?

Trust. I know, I know.

I hear You, thanks.

Trust.

A meat and potatoes faith is trusting that all the effort you put into making it pays off.

It would certainly be easier to just pick up the phone and order a pizza…

But would it pay off in the long run?

Being home from campus, home from contagious students and frozen meals, has given me an opportunity to change my health.

I won’t lie and say I didn’t just have oreos in peanut butter a few days ago for breakfast, but it isn’t all about physical health, anyway.

It’s less about meat and potatoes, and more about a faith built on trust.

Hard work, and trust.

And a little less baby food.

I lost 15 pounds in two weeks.

But as I leaned in, peering through the darkness as my youth minister pointed up to the sky – I knew the stars had always been there, even if no one but God could see them.

The stars are there even now, as I raise my hand to block the sunlight streaming in through my bedroom window.

And so, as we spoon sweet potato into Baby’s mouth, and are rewarded with a splatter of orange across the face and a wail for another cookie, let us remember how long it took us to go from a baby food faith to a deeper, more fulfilling, and downright more difficult faith.

And next time we beg God for stars, but see none in return, let’s remember that Abraham believed in God’s promise anyway.

I’ll say it again.

Nothing worth having comes easy.

Put that above your treadmill.

And then put it right inside your Bible.

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