If you’ve ever raised a small child, you know the “joy” of denying them what they want. When Kayleigh was very little, we used to go to a Mexican restaurant whose owner liked to give her a bag of M&Ms every time we went in. This was very generous, but it also made life a bit difficult. Neurologists tell us that the human brain isn’t fully developed until we’re in our mid-twenties. Our pre-frontal cortex is incomplete, and that means we don’t correlate actions with consequences, and we don’t have impulse control. Which explains why car insurance companies charge so much to people before they hit 25; and why young people are especially susceptible to addiction; and why teenaged boys who otherwise seem intelligent can do incredibly stupid things; and why it’s an exercise in futility to try to convince a three-year old that she shouldn’t eat candy before dinner. So Carrie and I had to come up with elaborate strategies to keep Kayleigh from seeing the candy or thinking about the candy until the meal was done. In fact, we came up with a code for talking about M&Ms in front of our daughter, “You take her for a walk, and I’ll go get the upside-down Ws.” Now, if you don’t have kids, you may be wondering, “Why not just give her the doggone candy?” Because candy is nice, but one cannot live on it. Our daughter needed real food. If we had let her eat candy whenever she wanted, that’s all she ever would have eaten. Since she wasn’t old enough to understand that logic, we had to be the bad guys.
As Christians, we often think that our main problem is all the toxic stuff in our lives, meaning the overt sins we commit. “I have these dark, evil thoughts. I get angry all the time. I resent someone who hurt me. I have a porn addiction and a nasty tendency to talk about people behind their back.” We see all those things as like arsenic, slowly killing us spiritually. That’s certainly true. But I would argue that our main problem isn’t the poison, it’s the stuff that’s the spiritual equivalent of M&Ms. It’s all the stuff in our lives that isn’t really evil; it just crowds out any room for a real relationship with God. We read passages like Psalm 63:1, My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. Or Psalm 73:25, Who do I have in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You. If we’re honest, most of us would say we don’t really feel that way about God very often. Some of us would say “I’ve never felt that kind of hunger for Him.” If you resonate with that, it’s not because you’re some sort of spiritual loser; it’s just that you’re filling up on other stuff. Spiritual junk food is crowding out the hunger you should have for the only thing that satisfies. So what can we do about that?
Sunday, as I continue my sermon series on spiritual disciplines, "The New You," we'll look at a discipline custom-designed to help us overcome the junk food so we can feast on the Bread of Life.