Managing Hunger and Thirst
by Ray DeGraw
[On Sundays this year we are publishing a series from Ray that will focus on the Sermon on the Mount, analyzing each characteristic of godliness found in Matthew 5-7. Essay 1, Essay 2, Essay 3, Essay 4, Essay 5.]
A few years ago, as I was fasting while sitting in a professional meeting watching everyone else eat a delicious lunch, my mind wandered to thoughts of diet and eating habits. In the middle of that contemplation, I had an interesting thought related to hungering and thirsting after righteousness. It really was something I had not considered previously and dealt with proper ways to construct a diet, to manage hunger and thirst.
As I said in my post last Sunday, feeling hunger and thirst has one, and only one, purpose: to prompt the one who is hungry and thirsty to eat in order to quench that hunger and thirst, thus protecting the body from the damage that inevitably occurs from lack of nourishment. Thus, we feel hunger and thirst when we are in need of physical nourishment and are at risk of physical harm. As I sat in that professional meeting lost in thought, I was struck by the correlation between how similar a good physical diet and a good spiritual diet are, and how wise the counsel is that we receive from our prophets and apostles.
Nutritionists teach that the absolute best way to construct a diet is to eat small meals throughout the day – as often as every 2-3 hours, a little food each time – just enough to take the edge off and satisfy the hunger and thirst that is felt as we burn away the calories (nutritional energy) provided by our food. In other words, the best way to manage food is to eat just enough to make the hunger and thirst go away (to replenish our physical energy), then repeat that process each time hunger and thirst is felt (when that physical energy is used). Obviously, that is not possible for many people in the course of their daily lives, so a decent compromise is to eat three times daily: in the morning, at mid-day, and in the evening.
Other patterns of diet are not as healthy, since they ignore the warning signs (hunger and thirst) and procrastinate the alleviation of those signs. For example, a feast and famine approach is unhealthy, as it does not provide steady nourishment (along with a host of other issues), while extreme diets might produce immediate and dramatic weight loss but rarely are sustainable, since they are incapable of establishing nutritional habits, and often cause problems with organs that are overtaxed by too much and then too little nourishment. Often, once the initial weight loss is achieved, old habits return, creating a yo-yo effect with weight control, which brings its own set of issues and complications (both physical and emotional). The effects of binging and purging are obvious and destructive.
There is one other habit that deserves to be considered: gluttony. Gluttony is partaking in excess, in this case going beyond dietary need and wrecking the proper balance that produces optimum health. It generally is accompanied by a lack of proper exercise, through which excess calories (nutritional energy) are burned away. When gluttony is practiced to an extreme degree, morbid obesity creates all kinds of health issues. It is an incredibly destructive dietary practice, and it is available only to those who have access to a surplus of food. In a very real way, it is a case of selfishness, since it consumes food unneeded by the consumer and takes that food away from others who actually need it.
It is interesting to compare this to the advice and counsel we have received for feeding ourselves spiritually.
Some generally accepted forms of spiritual nourishment are fasting, prayer, scripture study, and pondering/contemplation. The counsel is and always has been to fast at least monthly (and more often whenever necessary), pray at least morning and night and at various other times when appropriate (and keep a prayer in the heart always), read the scriptures at least daily, and ponder/contemplate the things of God always. This creates a situation in which someone is fed, spiritually, continually – where there is some form of spiritual nourishment occurring at the very moment it is needed. There is no feasting and famine, no extreme diet, no binging and purging, just a steady stream of nourishment that maintains an optimum state of spiritual health.
There also is no gluttony in this approach, as the constant and daily aspects of spiritual nourishment should be undertaken within the context of our other responsibilities of life. Caring for our families includes time in occupational pursuits (outside of or inside the home) and recreational activities; we set aside time for the development of talents; we engage in the service of others; etc. This allows us to burn away our excess spiritual energy, tone and strengthen our spirits, and create a properly balanced soul.
I have seen the effects of spiritual gluttony in the lives of some people I love deeply, people I know are good, caring, loving, spiritual individuals. They are good people at heart, but the inordinate amount of time they spend involved in individual spiritual activities reduces the amount of time they have available to spend with family and friends, thus reducing the amount of spiritual energy and nourishment they are able to burn away to provide spiritual light, heat, nourishment, and energy for others. Just as with physical gluttony, this removes spiritual nutrition from others, lessening their opportunity for spiritual nourishment. In some cases, it leads those they love the most to assume that they are not loved as much as the pursuit of spiritual nourishment, creating, in one example I have seen, the impression that dead people (temple work) are more important than live people (family and friends and neighbors).
It is important as we hunger and thirst after righteousness that we do so in a proper manner, feeding our spirits like we should feed our physical bodies, creating real balance in the nourishment of our soul.