The Ten Commandments say nothing about picky eaters. I know this, yet I’ll be honest and tell you I just now double checked to be sure. Now I want to attach an asterisk at “honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long” (Ex 20:12). Surely, eating all of your broccoli is implied?
I remain convinced that picky eating is a serious moral flaw, even if there was nothing about it on those two tablets.
Just ask my children.
My oldest two have learned their lesson. They won’t touch certain foods, but they know not to say a word about it. A hearty Thank you, Mom, for the great dinner! covers a multitude of sins. It covers even the mashed sweet potato they have eased toward the edge of their plates.
The younger two still choose the harder path. Their rebellion is open. Their refusal vocal. They are immature, and they draw out my own immaturity. Yes, I have shed tears like a great, overgrown child at my own dinner table.
Too often, our family table is a battlefield. My effort meets their resistance, and I feel as if my very self has been rejected.
This is my love for you, I say.
I hate sweet potatoes, they respond.
I’ve read the books, the online articles. I’ve talked to friends, to older moms and dads. For the most part, I’ve heard the same message: don’t let the meal become combat. Lay a few simple, clear boundaries (everyone must take at least one “no thank you” bite!), ratchet down the emotion, and learn to let it go, Mom. It’s not personal.
But it is. For me, it is deeply personal. It is thoroughly woven up with my love for my kids, and I refuse to untie those knots.
I also believe it is more than personal. It is more than merely an issue for me, personally, the me who enjoys food and loves to share my creations with the people in my life.
What happens at the table matters. It matters on Sunday mornings, and it matters on Monday nights. It matters for every disciple of Christ who shares a table with children, whether that disciple cooked the dinner herself or not. Whether that disciple has learned to like broccoli. Or not.
It matters because our tables are laden with gifts.
One of the most important tasks I have as a mother is to help my children understand there is no such thing as an ordinary apple. Or cloud. Or creek. Whether we gaze at sunsets or ladybugs, the earth is full of good gifts created by a good God.
Some of those gifts are easy to spot. Sunsets, of course, and sweet strawberries. Water for splashing and honey dripped from a spoon. However, some gifts require training in order to be seen. Some ask for a bit of maturity. Some demand experience. My daughter shrieks when she spies a swooping bat at dusk, but I sigh in gratitude. That bat is our very own mosquito-eater. Praise God for swooping, diving bats!
Every baby is born with an affinity for sweetness. In the same way, nearly every child delights at flowers and butterflies and water trickling over stones. But it takes time to learn to love the bitter. The dark chocolate. The coffee. The heartache.
Not every hard thing is a gift. But so many of the greatest gifts in my life have been hard. Loss and grief. Years spent waiting. Wilderness wandering. So bitter yet so sweet.
I, too, am a picky eater. I ask God only for sugar, but he gives me something better. He gives real food. He gives sustaining food.
He has given even the bittersweetness of his own suffering, cross-born self.
Sweet potatoes and broccoli. Bread and wine. Tears and trouble.
Glory be to God.