Due to a scheduling issue today, as I write this I am having an early lunch. Which doesn’t sound too bad, really. Except that I had a late breakfast. So I’m not particularly hungry.
But if I don’t eat now, I will be starving* before I can expect to have another moment to sit down again and eat. And then I will be ‘hangry’ – angry because I’m hungry – which is really unfair to the people I will encounter over the next several hours.
So I am eating a meal that, except that I am writing about it, I would not appreciate. How is it that in a world so full of hunger, I cannot appreciate every meal that I am given?
There is a correlation in my spiritual life. When I am hectic and hungering for God and there doesn’t seem to be a spare minute, I truly appreciate the little gifts of time that allow me to center and bask in the presence of God. Five minutes, twenty – they’re all precious gifts.
But last week I had a little more time. I was very grateful at first to be able to seriously focus on my discipline of prayer. At first. Then, I really wanted to finish my book, so prayer time was a bit of a burden. I mean it was good once I did it; I was glad I did it, but “eh, whatever.” Then I finished my book one day instead of doing it. Then I dove back in a little guiltily.
Grateful? Maybe. I guess. But the truth was, I wasn’t hungry for it. Unless I had noticed what I was feeling – which is a spiritual practice itself these days – I wouldn’t have even thought about being grateful for something that I wasn’t even doing for myself at that point, but out of some sense of obligation.
I guess that selfish side of gratitude makes it more clear why there’s a big debate all over the web about whether gratitude is actually good for us or not. I tend to go with gratitude is good. Both this article I read last week and my Bible tell me so. But it is harder to be grateful when you’re not hungry (or in pain or struggling or whatever).
This isn’t exactly a new concept – I am not being bold or full of new vision. I remember my first economics class – it wasn’t very far into the term before we were talking about the law of diminishing returns. (In every economic class I have had, they use hamburgers as the example – I wonder what they used before hamburgers were so popular? What do vegan economists use?)
Anyway, this example says that when you are starving – really starving or figuratively – the first bite of the hamburger is the most valuable bite you are ever going to eat. You will pay almost anything for that first bite of hamburger. By the time you finish that hamburger and you’re not so hungry, you value that last bite far less. After your fifth hamburger, that next bite hardly has any value at all – you’d give it away not to have to eat it. The good you get or the return on each bite of hamburger keeps declining the more you eat: the law of diminishing returns.
So back to the lunch I do not fully appreciate. The return on each bite of food has a pretty low value to me right now. I’m kind of eating because I have to. However, it will have far more value in a couple hours when my stomach is not growling and my blood sugar hasn’t dropped so low as to send my voice growling at the person I am meeting with. I don’t know how they account for this in economics, but now that I’m pondering it, I realize that this backward/forward looking valuation should have a cool name too: 20/20 backward vision gratitude, perhaps?
If I take this 20/20 backward vision gratitude into my prayer life, then looking at my frightfully busy schedule this week, I can be glad that I stored up some extra minutes in prayer last week – even if I didn’t fully appreciate them then. As I reflect over my cooling meal in front of me, I can count at least a thousand times I have looked BACK and seen all the things I should have been grateful for, but was not in the moment. Rather than beat myself up over it, I’m thinking maybe I just wave my 20/20 backward vision gratitude now and try to move forward with more gratitude from here on out.
My wonderfully health-conscious husband is always saying that I shouldn’t eat when I am not hungry. And in that I see another layer. Maybe the problem is that I scheduled my time in such a way that I did not allow myself to eat when I am hungry.
Again, I cannot beat myself up over that – life happens. But it certainly adds complexity to the spiritual issue. Do we give ourselves space for prayer when we are hungry for God? Do our schedules and earthly lives leave us room to be hungry? Are we so hungry all the time that we don’t even notice our hunger for God gnawing away at our bellies?
I would love to hear more about your hungers – for food, for God, for spiritual opening. How do you practice gratitude? Is “noticing” a spiritual practice in and of itself or is it a result of spiritual practice? We know there are so many people out there hungry for food – what else are we starving for?
Lunch is finished and I close with a special prayer of thanksgiving: Thank you, God, for all the food you have provided this day and every day. Let it nourish my body and my spirit to appreciate all that you have given. Amen.
* I try to remember when I use the term “starving” that there are people truly starving in this world. I use my reflexive word choice as a chance to remember to pray for them and all people who do not have enough of the things that we need to survive: food, clean water, shelter, love, and grace among other things!