Who opens a container of Oreos and just eats three, the official “serving size” for a delectable Oreo snack?
I definitely don’t eat just three Oreos. If I’m lucky, a box of Oreos lasts for three days, but if I had a bad night at work to recover from, or a good night at work to celebrate – the box of Oreos won’t survive the evening.
“Your Cravings At War Within You.”
Our Epistle lectionary text this week is James 4. “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?” James asks. “Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts” (James 4:1-2).
I have never committed murder for an Oreo. But whether you’re eating a box of Oreos under the cover of night while catching up on Insecure, or whether you crave more serious things, James’ phrase “cravings at war within you” puts its finger on the heart of what it means to crave, and the lengths we go to in order to be satisfied.
What I have noticed about my pet cravings, from Oreos to more serious, spiritually destructive ones, is that at a certain point, it’s not about the Oreo anymore. I say that I “want an Oreo” but what I really want is an end to the desire for one. I want to be satisfied. I want to be full. I want to stop being at war. I want peace.
And I assume that since my craving is for Oreos, that Oreos will be what satisfy me. I assume that the answer to craving is to just have one more.
Oreos are nasty little buggers, though. Like that old Lays ad, betcha can’t eat just one.
Modern Food Isn’t Made For Satiation.
David Kessler researches the effects of processed food on our bodies, and his thesis is that manufactured food is engineered to never satisfy us. There is a ratio of fat to sugar that hits all the particular spots on our taste buds and our evolutionary makeup so that we never eat and are satisfied. It’s in the interest of food manufacturers to make food that never fills us up. They’ve got products to sell, and the more we buy, the more they make. In other words, the less satisfied we are, the richer they are.
So food, instead of satisfying us, is being tweaked to keep us dissatisfied. Food, God’s gift to us for delight and satiation, is being poked and prodded until the very food we eat is what keeps us hungry.
The more we crave, the more we try to satisfy our cravings, but like shipwrecked sailors chugging salt water and slowly dying of thirst, the things we consume to quench our emptiness only make us emptier.
So we eat junk, until at a certain point we just feel bloated and thirsty and gross. We skip satisfaction and move straight to “guys, I feel kind of sick.”
Spiritual Cravings and Processed Spiritual Food
While I was reading this passage in James, I was reminded of Isaiah – “why spend your money on what is not bread, you labor on what does not satisfy?” (Is 55:2).
But the more we chase them, the hungrier we get. The “kingdoms of this world” are manufactured to keep us hungry, too. We really believe that we’d finally stop wanting power if we only had enough of it. Or money. Or sex. Or success. Or a thriving ministry. Or whatever it is that your Oreo has become these days. Because it’s not just the “world’s” kingdoms, but even the cravings of Christians for bigger and better and shinier ministries and churches and organizations. We aren’t exempt, and because we couch our cravings in “religious terms,” we don’t notice that we’re chasing after the kingdoms of this world just as much as anyone else – just putting a Jesus bumper sticker on whatever kingdom we’re running after today.
But they’re still kingdoms of this world. They still keep us running, and never satisfied.
If only I could have more, be more, be larger, be more important, get more, have more, get more sex, have a bigger house, have that certification, read more books, finalize that divorce, own my own business, have a successful church plant, expand my ministry, meet The One, if only, if only!
We just want peace from that patter of cravings in our mind, but we believe that the subject of our cravings is the solution to our cravings – as if eating the Oreos will bring us peace from wanting them.
But we discover again and again that getting more only makes us want more.
Modern food is manufactured to make us crave and crave and never be happy once we have it, which is the best definition of the ancient, spiritual word “temptation” that I’ve ever heard.
If we are unlucky, we’ll spend our whole life like this, just on the edge of being satisfied, always believing that just a little bit more is going to be the thing that satisfies us and hits the spot and calms the cravings.
If we are lucky, at some point in our lives we’ll notice that we are only making ourselves sick, and that getting just one more hasn’t worked yet, and won’t work ever.
Jesus’ Upsidedown, Strangely Satisfying, Very Small Kingdom
James’ lecture on cravings is next to the disciples’ argument about who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. A bunch of guys on a roadtrip with God, and they’re fighting about who gets a promotion – who comes into the office earliest and who was behind that major project and who got that last account for the company. Like church people bickering about the importance of platform or congregation size, the disciples of Christ fight about who gets to run Heaven.
And Jesus pulls a kid on to His lap and asks them to learn a lesson from the smallest, least successful, least powerful.
The kingdom of heaven, Jesus tells them, is not like these other kingdoms.
You don’t get larger, or more powerful, in Jesus’ kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven is only found by going downward.
The kingdom of heaven is very, very small, like a mustard seed.
The kingdom of heaven is like a little kid.
If you want to get out of this loop of not having – getting – not being satisfied – getting more – getting sick – doing it again – you’re gonna have to be brave enough to stop getting more and see what happens.
You’re gonna have to be brave enough to get smaller even if you’re scared it’ll mean that you disappear.
You’re going to have to be brave enough to stop moving and put down roots next to the river, and hope that satisfaction will come in rootedness.
By Streams of Water
“Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;” the Psalmist sings in our lectionary Psalm, “but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Ps 1:1-3).
I feel very blown about like blown about like chaff some days, restless and always in motion, unnourished and dry to the touch. The Psalmist begs us to find nourishment in stillness, to put down deep roots near a sustaining stream and trust that in stillness, we will find strength.
“Draw near to God,” James concludes his passage on cravings, “and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). Everything else leaves us wanting more. But when we move towards God, God moves towards us.
Come close to the River, and it will nourish you.
The kingdoms of this world are made to leave you hungry. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,” Jesus tells the weary woman at the well, “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst” (Jn 4:13).
Come down to the River. Rest, be still, and be satisfied.