Proverbs for Parents: Hunger and the Fullness of God

Proverbs 27:7 says “One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.” This is an encouragement and a call to those who work with and raise teens. The encouragement is that because we have the fullness of God, we can live humble and unafraid through a pandemic and in a politically polarized, secular, post-Christian culture. The call is to consume the nutrients that will fill ourselves and our adolescents with the fullness of God.

Nutrition science uses two fancy words for the comfortable feeling of fullness we experience when we eat:

  1. Satiation occurs during a meal and helps us to stop eating, determining how much food is consumed during a meal.
  2. Satiety occurs after a meal and inhibits eating until the next meal, determining how much time passes between meals.

As food enters our GI tract, receptors in the stomach stretch and hormones become active, letting us know we are full. Protein, fiber, and fat sustain satiation and satiety by filling the stomach, delaying absorption of nutrients, and triggering release of hormones that inhibit food intake. Eating a combination of protein, fiber, and fats leaves us satisfied until the next meal, keeping us from experiencing hunger that leads to snacking on less nutritious foods between meals or binge eating at the next meal (Whitney, 2018). Just as our bodies maintain satiation and satiety when provided the right nutrients, when we have the fullness of God, we can reject the honey that the world offers.

The Plenty of God

God’s wisdom and love for us are demonstrated in the book of Proverbs and are fulfilled in the person of Jesus and the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:19-20). Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are our satiation. When we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded that we are fed and full on the spiritual food of Christ’s body and blood.The work of the Holy Spirit is our satiety, sustaining us until we feast with Christ and His Church (Is. 25:6; Rev. 19:9). Church, Bible reading, and prayer are nutrients, like protein, fiber, and fat. They leave us satisfied and keep us from experiencing hunger so severe that we are tempted to snack on the world or binge on our idols, such as our comforts, successes, and relationships.

In a blog post, Ray Ortlund quotes his father’s preaching, “Jesus wants to express his fullness through you. Always begin your thinking and your planning and your deciding from the standpoint of Jesus’ fullness in your life. Always begin with the plenty of God. Face life with all you have in Christ. Never face life from the standpoint of all the problems and all the needs and all the difficulties. Always begin with your standing in Christ. You have rivers of living water, Christ in you, fullness of grace and truth. That’s what Jesus gives us!”

The fullness of Christ and the plenty of God mean there is always enough love, forgiveness, truth, grace, and patience for every teen, parent, and youth minister. When we begin our thinking and planning related to parenting and youth ministry from the standpoint of Jesus’ fullness in our lives, then his fullness will flow through us and into our adolescents.

Spiritual Hunger Cues

People eat in response to a variety of cues, not just hunger. External cues such as time of day, environmental influences such as the presence of a favorite food, and cognitive influences such as memories, intellect, and social interactions all stimulate appetite (Whitney, 2018). Our privilege as parents and youth ministers is to acculturate our children into the family of God and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We help them to develop external cues and environmental and cognitive influences that draw them near to God in prayer, through the Bible, and through the local church in times of stress and suffering, but also in times of celebration. We model turning to God in times of joy and sorrow by participating in small groups, prayer groups, Sunday school, an Ash Wednesday service, or going to church the day after your football team lost to its in-state rival.

Spiritual Food Culture

Studies show that children are less likely than adults to try new foods, in part because they have not yet learned cultural rules regarding what is safe and edible. A child who is exposed repeatedly to new items loses the fear of new foods faster than one who experiences a limited diet (Kittler, 2016). Likewise, we can repeatedly expose our children to the life of the church. We model delight in His Word and His people. We invite them to wrestle with God’s law and commands. This will expose the limited diet the world offers compared to the fullness of God. Like hot chocolate made with water versus hot chocolate made with milk, even a young child can tell the difference.

Spiritual Food Preferences

Research also suggests that children choose foods eaten by admired adults, peers, and especially older siblings. Parents are not the primary influence of our children’s food preferences (Kittler, 2016). If I am not going to be the primary influence on my children’s spiritual food preferences, then I will find tables for my children to sit with and be influenced by the spiritual foods that my brothers and sisters in Christ are feasting on. If I long for my daughter to find her confidence and security in Christ and not in a husband, then I will invite single women from my church over for dinner. If I desire my children to have a biblical view of marriage then I will introduce them to multi-generational, multi-racial, and multi-ethnic Christian couples. If I hope that my middle schooler has a Biblical ethic of work then we will spend time with those from our church who are young adults, just beginning their careers, as well as retirees, who are reflecting on decades of work. I can encourage youth group attendance and invest in Christian summer camp. Christian communities give youth spiritual food for their journey from the family into the world.

Another childhood food preference is for sweets, especially when combined with fats, with almost half of calories eaten by young people coming from added sugars and fats. Let’s fill our children and teens with the sweetness and richness of Christ and His Church while they are young so that they are empowered to say, “I have food that you do not know about” (John 4:31) to their idols and the world.

 

References

Kittler, P. G., Sucher, K. P., & Nelms, M. (2016). Food and culture. Cengage Learning.

Ortlund, Ray (2016, Aug 4). Always begin with the fullness, the plenty. Christ is Deeper Still.https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/fullness-and-plenty/.

Whitney, E., & Rolfes, S. R. (2018). Understanding nutrition. Cengage Learning.

About The Author

Dr. Melissa Powell is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC). She is married to Chris Powell, Executive Pastor at North Shore Fellowship, and the mother of two children. An old dog, a good book, a big salad, and a long walk are a few of her favorite things.

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