Culture At Large

The WHO bacon scare and a theology of enjoyment

Heather Caliri

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) tried to take our bacon away.

Or at least that’s how some news organizations first interpreted the announcement that processed meats have been classified as carcinogenic to humans. The real news was less dire, only announcing that the evidence confirms a link between colorectal cancer and certain eating habits (such as eating two strips of bacon a day).

Over at Facebook, a friend wondered after the announcement if she should feel guilty for serving up sausage that night. So far, though, the meat industry is not expecting Americans to abruptly change their eating habits.

I sighed at the now-predictable pattern: organization makes dietary announcement; media blows the news out of proportion; we wring our hands over food we happily ate yesterday. Sure, I want to be wise about food and make healthy choices, but the pattern of hysteria surrounding these announcements doesn’t seem wise or healthy.

While contemplating the uproar, I was uncomfortably reminded of a parallel pattern in my approach to spiritual discipline. After a Sunday sermon or an impactful book, I’d resolve to upend my life to incorporate the suggestions. A talk on listening prayer muted my prayer life; a book curriculum had me grabbing desperately at new spiritual practices. Rather than centering me in Christ, my approach led to frantic action — and then paralysis and guilt. I knew this wasn’t God’s plan. But how could I choose healthy habits in the face of so many insistent plans of action?

I eat well because I truly enjoy it. Doing so makes me feel whole.

This is where we end up with food, too, isn’t it? The WHO’s announcement will definitely inspire guilt, but will it create positive change?

God is sovereign over our bodies and our spirituality; we trust He knows how to lead us to health everywhere. So where is His middle ground? What is the overarching guideline that helps us honor Him with everything we have?

I’ve found my answer is enjoyment.

As a kid, I got migraines from hypoglycemia. Eat too much sugar, and I’d pay with blinding pain. I’m oddly grateful for the affliction, though, because it taught me to listen to my body. I learned which food items made me feel ill and which ones truly nourished me. Funnily enough, I gradually stopped enjoying food that was bad for me.

Decades later, I don’t eat healthily because someone tells me I should. I eat well because I truly enjoy it. Doing so makes me feel whole.

Lately, I’ve found that rubric helpful for my spiritual life too. After all, the Westminster Catechism tells us that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Or, as John Piper put it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

Instead of lunging after each new suggestion, sure that it will make me “healthy,” I have started paying attention to how I feel, moment to moment, with God. Do I feel like I’m drifting from Christ? If so, I’ll change what I’m doing, or ask God to lead me through prayer. If I add a new discipline, I try to notice how it changes my walk of faith. Do I feel more centered in Jesus? Does it add to my anxiety, or take it away? The result, more often than not, is that I feel satisfied and whole.

I’ll be honest: I love bacon. But I’ve grown to love kale just as much. Which is why I’m learning to ask Jesus to teach me how to crave and enjoy what is good.

Topics: Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Science, Theology & The Church, Faith, News & Politics, Media