Written By Chong Shou En, Singapore
Eating was a big deal for me when I was young. I was a hyperactive, skinny child, browned by the sun and constantly on the move.
Though my mother managed to whip up three square meals a day despite her hectic schedule, they couldn’t come fast enough as far as my metabolism was concerned. My mother often laughed when I asked her, “When’s the next meal?” right after I had finished one.
On Saturdays after swimming lessons, I would curl up in a ball on the living room couch with my stomach growling, and my attention drawn to the kitchen from which the sounds and smells of dinner would come to taunt me.
But appetite and adolescent metabolism aside, I was a greedy child. With three siblings and limited food, meal-time politics were very real for me. I would often eye the wing or drumstick of a chicken, or a choice bit of a tasty something while waiting for my father to finish his opening prayer—hoping that I would be able to get it before someone else did. After all, every chicken only has two drumsticks, and when there are four hungry children at the table, it’s literally the Hunger Games.
It amuses me how seriously my younger self took meals. Though I didn’t show it, I would be disappointed and often resentful if someone took the food I had set my heart on. And when I had the chance to help myself, I would often go straight for the best stuff.
My mother was integral in changing my attitude towards food. As I grew older, I began to notice her giving and frequently self-sacrificial attitude; she prioritized our needs and wants, especially that of my dad’s, above her own in many areas of life. She always gave her husband and children the best parts of all the food on the table, and often ate the less desired parts—a dry piece of chicken, a portion of vegetables with more stalks than leaves, or the left-over food from a previous meal.
Deeply moved by what I saw, I began to imitate my mother, and over the years, I can now say that her example has finally become second nature to me.
I know this may sound funny, but tears come to my eyes now as I type this, because writing about this particular habit of hers brings to mind everything else my mother has done for our family throughout the years, and how much I owe her in ways she may not even realize.
Do I still like tasty chicken wings and drumsticks? Of course. The types of food I like and want haven’t changed much. But there is something I want more now. And here are some lessons that helped me along way.
We are not defined by our desires.
I have liked, still do, and probably always will like, juicy chicken drumsticks. However, I’m no longer the same person. Looking back, I can say with certainty and regret that I was a greedy and selfish person during mealtimes. Now, I can say with certainty that I am less so.
My desires haven’t changed, but my choices have. And our choices—not our desires—are what fundamentally define us. Though this may sound like a simple concept, it’s important that we believers are reminded of this, because some of us do live with guilt and feelings of hypocrisy because of our desires.
Desires aren’t sin till we consciously decide to indulge ourselves in their mental or physical manifestations. Desires don’t define us till we let them control us. Then they truly begin to define us.
But how do we control our desires?
We can replace our desires.
What was the difference between my mother and my younger self? Or rather, how had she overcome her intrinsic desire to be selfish? I think it’s because she had another stronger desire to fulfill. Her desire to get the best for herself had been replaced by her desire to give her family the best.
And I believe that is the solution to controlling our desires too. Instead of merely focusing on restraining or removing certain desires in our lives, we must seek to replace them with comparable and suitable praiseworthy desires.
The difficult thing is that our bad desires are so often those short-term desires that call urgently for instant gratification. And today’s culture is one where instant gratification rules. Everything is just a step or moment or two away, whether it’s pornography, quick flings facilitated by Tinder, delivered food, online shopping, or social media and entertainment. But the truth is, while desires that call for instant gratification may feel great to indulge in for a while, they don’t bring any permanent fulfillment, but rather emptiness.
As Christians, we’re not just called to put away these detrimental, short-term gratifying desires, we’re called to redirect them by taking the steps to fulfill instead the excellent desires that usually require time to realize. And as I’ve learned myself, these long-term desires are usually the ones which will bring long-term satisfaction.
We can embrace the struggle.
Redirecting or replacing our desires is difficult, but important. Suppose there were plenty of choice delicacies to go around during our family mealtimes. Would I still have sinned by knowingly and selfishly prioritizing my wants over that of my family’s? It might not seem so, if there was abundance for everyone to get what they wanted. But what of my heart?
I would not have had the chance to confront the selfishness that ruled in me, or perhaps even realize that it was there. I would never have learned selflessness from my mother. And so I thank God for giving chickens only two legs, and not four.
Likewise, if you’re facing a struggle with certain desires in your life now, thank God for it. The struggle itself is an important and necessary part of our growth, because it’s a natural part of our existence and essential for our sanctification and journey to maturity.
Finally, there is one desire, however, that should control us. And this is the desire to glorify God and enjoy Him. Though glorifying and enjoying God may seem vague to some, in practice, it boils down to a practical and intentional day-to-day affair. In the daily choices we make, we can continually fulfill this desire and find joy in having done so.
Ultimately, when we wholeheartedly seek to constantly fulfill this desire, other desires begin to fall in place and we can find resolution and satisfaction in many areas of our life.