One of the major battles we seem to be fighting as parents is over food. It’s got to be one of the quintessential struggles of every generation, too. I remember being sent to bed without dinner, complaining about what my mom made, and seeing other kids do the same thing. I imagined somewhere in the world Swedish kids were eating pastries to their heart’s delight, and this only worsened my distress. And here I was, eating roast beef and carrots.
It’s amazing how the simple sustenance you set before your kids can cause tears, Chernobylesque meltdown, and grave disobedience. In the words of a Nike/Michael Jackson/Weird Al medley, we say to ourselves and to them, Just Eat It.
For the longest time (yesterday) if my five-year-old was made to eat meat (or any dish not called “macaroni and cheese”), he would first push the plate away and say, “I’m not hungry.” After some “coercion” he would feign eating, but would act as though sulfuric acid was touching his lips. Tears would follow, with an Oscar-worthy performance of epic proportions.
But as we’ve dealt with the boys and the way they receive provision, in this case food, it really has struck me that it’s about so much more than what’s going into their stomachs. In the words of Jesus, it’s not what goes into your mouth that makes you unclean, but what comes out of your heart (Matthew 15:18). Something profound is happening at your dinner table, and it isn’t merely about food.
First, the refusal to receive gladly what your parent’s give you to eat is ultimately a rejection of God’s provision. Think about it. When God’s people Israel were in the wilderness and as a Father he prepared manna for them every day, what did they do? They grumbled. They threw a fit. “We don’t like that. We want McDonald’s.” And what was God’s response? He took the family station wagon into the drive thru lane, got them all quail burgers with cheese, and then killed most of them (Numbers, 1 Cor 10).
Lesson? God does not take lightly our sinful refusal to accept gratefully whatever he gives us, in our kids or in us. If we laugh at their ungratefulness or dismiss it as merely childish behavior, not recognizing it as a potentially life-long pattern of habitual discontent with God, we are guilty of condoning and ignoring rebellion against God.
So they’re not getting something else to eat. They’re getting discipline, perpetual conversation about receiving with joy, forgiveness for disobedience, and direction to find hope for change in the Spirit of Jesus. We’re praying for them and with them, even as we do for ourselves.
Which brings me to my second point, namely, that God is teaching you just as much about your own heart through their ingratitude as he is them. It’s made me realize how foolishly I reject what God gives me in my life all the time. “I don’t like this job, I want another one. I don’t like my station in life, I want that one. I don’t like this provision, I want something else. I wish our house was nicer. I wish I had that car instead of this one.” Is that any different than what my kids are doing at the table? Not really.
That’s why when Paul urges us to submit every need to God, he instructs us to do so with the constant habit of thankfulness, lest your asking be baked in bitterness over what you haven’t been given (Philippians 4). As we pursue contentment, which is a gracious gift of God, we must do so by the exertion and habit of thanking God for what he’s given—even when we don’t feel like it.
And remember, your children’s struggle is an instrument God is using to mirror your own. He’s graciously using the view from three feet (or six)—their perspective—to awaken you to your own discontented heart about life. So listen.
“Be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”’ (Hebrews 13:5).