Do you know a fussy eater? Maybe you are one.
I couldn’t wait until my son, Timothy, was old enough to start eating solid food—even if solid food consisted of sloppy baby rice. Prior to that moment, I had endured months of him staring into my mouth every time I ate. He would look at me in such a way to show what he was thinking, “Why can’t I have some?” His big, brown eyes never failed to make me feel guilty.
When the day came that he could eat solids, he took to it right away. Immediately, he wanted to hold the spoon himself and put the rice into his mouth. He didn’t even dribble a bit (I think he thought he had waited so long, he had better not waste any). As the days progressed, so did his eating skills. He ate pretty much anything we offered him. One of his favourite things to do was pick tomatoes from the greenhouse and eat them right away.
Then one day, Timothy decided on his favourite foods. He determined that he no longer wanted to eat what was put in front of him but rather what he wanted to eat ONLY what he wanted to eat.
The technical term for this behaviour which peaks between the ages of two and six is food neophobia. In January 2016 research from a journal called Appetite showed out of 120 kids aged three to eleven, an overall 39% were identified as picky eaters at some point. Personally, I think the percentage is far higher.
As I was reflecting on Timothy’s eating habits, I wondered how often I’d approached my spiritual diet the same way.
Much like physical food, spiritually, I am inclined to digest the things which are to my taste and reject the parts I dislike. I tend to lean towards soft and sweet rather than chewy and nutritious. When I read a chapter from the Bible, I often find myself like a child on Christmas, eating what I enjoy while avoiding the brussels sprouts.
Three Reasons Why We Become Picky Eaters
According to the professionals, there are three major reasons why children become picky eaters: fear, independence and boredom.
The main reason children become fussy eaters is because they are scared that food might hurt them. Consider the time before supermarkets existed. We had to hunt and gather our food in the wild. In that sort of environment, we had to know which foods were safe to eat and which foods would kill us.
Today, we don’t suffer from the same extreme (unless of course, you decide to go on holidays with Bear Grylls). Nevertheless, we still experience pleasure or displeasure when we put food into our mouths. Imagine eating a sweet bit of fudge or a red hot chilli pepper. Both are very different tastes, and without knowledge or experience, there is no way of knowing what experience you will receive. How confident would you be to eat blindfolded? This is how a child feels when given new food for the first time.
Fear is often a bigger motivator than pleasure. For example, imagine there are two unmarked boxes, one with a cheque for a thousand dollars and another with a deadly scorpion. Most people would not take the risk to put their hands in either box, even for the chance of the pleasure of winning a thousand dollars.
Along with the fear of the unknown, there is also the fear of the known. As adults, if we don’t like something, we simply don’t eat it but imagine if someone forced you to eat your least favourite food. Dr Gillian Harris, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Birmingham, asked, “What is going through your mind—disgust? And if I tried to make you eat your horror food—anxiety and then fear.”
So what does this look like when it comes to reading God’s Word?
Often I find myself wanting to stay within the parts of the Bible that I am most comfortable. For example, many Christians are happy reading the Gospels and the Sunday school stories, “Noah and the Ark,” “Samson,” and “Joseph and His Technicolor Dream Coat.” However, they choose to stay out of the more difficult passages and Old Testament prophecies. We like to stick with what we know. The Hebrew church had a similar problem. They became content with drinking milk and would not move on to solid spiritual food.
“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:11-14
Perhaps we need to wean ourselves off spiritual milk and move onto solids.
Another reason why children often reject food given by their parents is that they want to show their independence. To begin with, Timothy was more than happy to be fed with a spoon, but then all of a sudden, he hated it. He wanted to hold the spoon himself. In fact, he would often rather not eat than be helped. Now, this was not a problem at all when it came to finger foods, but when it came to eating breakfast cereal, well, let’s just say the phrase, “Don’t cry over spilt milk,” didn’t sound so funny anymore.
As parents, we try everything. The choo-choo train coming through the tunnel. The aeroplane flying in the sky, but NO, NO. That tunnel is bricked up and staying shut.
We often call this time “the terrible twos.” Although, children will often begin to show their independence long before they are two-years-old. Children’s growing independence shows itself in a variety of contexts beyond eating. They want to choose their own clothes, decide which toy to play with, walk by themselves, and so on. On some days, toddlers want help, but on the next, they refuse it.
When children demonstrate their independence, it is their way of saying, “I know what is best for me.” Children don’t care about the nutritional value of foods. They don’t care about eating a balanced diet. They only want to eat the food that gives them instant pleasure.
Like children, we have a tendency to refuse to eat anything that is not suited to our tastes. I could list all the reasons why sugar is bad for you, but in all likelihood, if I mention cakes, ice cream and chocolates, it will only make you crave them. If you’re more of a savoury person, I could talk about the fat and salt in crisps, sausage rolls, and pork pies. Yet again, while you may know that they are not good for you, you will still crave them anyway.
Equally, I could talk about the healthy benefits of tofu or how raw cabbage and spinach shakes will reduce your acidic level and provide you with loads of micronutrients. But it is probably not going to encourage you to go out and drink one.
How does this translate into spiritual food? Well, we find ourselves only reading the things that we enjoy and ignoring the things that we dislike or don’t fit into our belief system.
“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” – 2 Timothy 4:2-3
What does this look like in its simplest form? It means that we read about God’s love but not his holiness. It means that we study about the blessings of God but not about the disciplines of God. Often we try to pick and choose verses from the Bible to support our positions on something. Our motivation in doing so is that we want to run our own lives, and we don’t want God to interfere. This is a very dangerous and ungodly way. The life of the believer is one of dependence—not independence.
Another reason why children often reject food is because they are bored of it (sorry parents but it’s true). As parents we eventually decide it’s not worth a battle each meal time and so pick the easy option of just cooking foods that our child likes. Then, to our surprise, they start rejecting that food also. The reason? They are tired of eating it. There are only so many chicken nuggets any one child can eat.
My grandfather always told me, “Don’t tell your nan you like anything because if you do, you will be stuck with it forever.” He would then go on to tell the story of how forty years prior, he had told my nan that he enjoyed the ham, potatoes, and parsley sauce she made for tea one Wednesday evening and as a result had been left eating it every Wednesday night for the rest of her life.
Spiritually speaking, as sad as it is to admit, we can become bored with God’s Word. We scan over the things familiar to us. We switch off our attention during the Sunday Service and think to ourselves, “I’ve heard this before.” This was often my Sunday School experience as I would hear the same stories year after year with the same application. One survey showed that 75% of Sunday preaching is from the New Testament. Could it be that we don’t have a balanced spiritual diet?
I love the passion that this psalmist had for Scripture:
“I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. Be good to your servant while I live, that I may obey your word. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me. My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.” – Psalm 119:14-20
There is no boredom in these verses. If you are not rejoicing as you read Scripture, maybe you need to challenge yourself. Read new passages of the Bible. Try a devotional or reading plan. Read commentaries from different authors and pastors. Find a new Bible study method.
“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”” – Matthew 4:4
Matthew 4:4 is a familiar passage to me, but I want to focus on one word: “every.” Man shall not live on bread alone, but on EVERY word. Just as we need a balanced physical diet, we need to balance our spiritual diet as well. We can’t just live on SOME words. We need every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Has your child taught you any lesson in regards to your relationship with God or Scripture?
What tips can you give to help us stop becoming spiritually fussy eaters?