1 : any of the instinctive desires necessary to keep up organic life; especially : the desire to eat
2 a : an inherent craving
What are you hungry for right now? Do you even know?
On Saturday, A danced at a funeral. No, I'm not joking. Technically it was a memorial service, but the sentiment is the same. She danced to celebrate the life of a 92 year old woman who lived a long, full life of service. She served in ordinary ways - she was a mom to three and was known for baking cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. Cookies that melted in your mouth and made your hand involuntarily reach out for one more. In the last years of her life, she often baked for the dancers at Rejoice, a ministry started by her daughter. At her memorial service, those same dancers who ate her cookies honored her memory with beautiful dance, glowing faces and a few tears. And as we remembered her life, we ate cookies. Like Jesus, Grandma Hove fed the masses. She just fed them cookies instead of bread.
After the memorial service, I sat at a table (eating cookies) talking with one of A's dance teachers. She's a joy of a person to be around, exactly the kind of woman I am thankful to have teach dance to my daughters - because I'd love for them to learn about not just dance, but about life, from her. She has two young children and a few months ago we were chatting about eating habits and children. I'm not sure how the conversation started, but I think I mentioned that our girls aren't allowed to watch TV on weekdays. This is as much about setting expectations as it is about managing our time and household. Because there's no TV on Tuesdays, it feels like a treat when I bend the rule and let them watch an episode of Phineas and Ferb. But if post-school TV were the norm, there would be less joy, more demanding. They would feel entitled to TV time. (And I hate entitlement.) These thoughts led us to a discussion of dessert and children's appetites. Dessert after every meal? Only dinner? Only certain days of the week? There's no right or wrong answer here, but it is a minefield to navigate, especially when parenting daughters.
My friend shared that she noticed when her daughter was very hungry, it was unsettling, but when her son ate a lot, she just thought, "Oh, look. He has a healthy appetite." Each of my three daughters has a completely different body type. Consequently, they have different appetites. My approach has been to not only offer them healthy food choices, but to explain why certain choices are healthier than others. But I don't try to control their appetites.
By the time I was the age of my eldest daughter, I was (futilely) trying to curb my appetite. By 6th grade, I was dieting with a friend. I remember trying to stay under 500 (!) calories per day for a while (without much success, I might add). I made terrible food choices. My daily high school lunch consisted of a Coke and a bag of chips. I've learned slowly but surely a better way to eat, a better way to approach my appetite. Over time, I've found the best cure for an unhealthy appetite is exercise. I'm not only less hungry when I work out regularly, I crave foods that are better for me. Moderate exercise and healthy foods are a far better choice for satisfying an appetite than empty calories, dieting and pretending an appetite doesn't exist.
I've held these beliefs and practices about food for a while, but the recent memorial service made me realize another truth: our appetites are God-given. I have seen for myself that my daughters eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. They know to listen to their bodies and respond accordingly. And it's wrong of me, of our family, of our world, to tell them to stop listening to these appetites. God has planted in them a desire for things that are good for them. And when we start tampering with how to listen to and satisfy those desires, things go awry.
If we can help our children - and ourselves - learn to recognize our God-given appetites, it will be easier for them to distinguish which appetites should be satisfied and which should be ignored. (And some appetites should be ignored, especially the things the world tells us we should want - things our hearts don't care about at all, but that keep our economy afloat.) I fear that if I discourage my girls from listening for, understanding and meeting their desires, they will become unable to know what they truly want. They'll hunger and not know what they hunger for. They'll long to do something - but not quite know what to do.
This has far broader applications than just food. My daughter A knew she wanted to dance from the time she was three. God planted that desire in her. Had I stifled it, discouraged it or told her to ignore it, she would still have an unsettled place inside her that longs for that outlet. Barring wise choices for satisfying that desire, she might have ultimately chosen a more destructive way to scratch the itch that dance is for her soul.
I taught myself to not only ignore what my body longed for, but to ignore some things that my soul craved. I'm inept at drawing and for years equated that with a lack of creativity. I am creative. I just needed to understand myself better instead of stifling my appetite.
What are you hungry for? Do you even know?