One of the most powerful spiritual lessons I have ever learned began as a physical event. With apologies to my parents, who tried to teach me good manners, I share the gory details of my experience in the hope that someone will benefit from my hard won wisdom:
It had been a busy missionary day. So busy that my two companions and I hadn’t had time for lunch. You know that shaky feeling you get when your blood sugar is low? We had reached that point, so we headed to our townhouse a bit earlier than our usual dinner time, making a beeline from the front door to the kitchen. We proceeded to fling open the fridge and pantry, greedily grabbing whatever we saw and shoving it into our mouths. I have a clear recollection of wolfing down a carton of yogurt, then pausing over an open box of cereal, wondering if Sister Harris and Sister Jensen would be shocked if I skipped the bowl and just poured the granola straight down my throat. For fifteen or twenty minutes we stuffed ourselves like little piggies. By the time we came up for air, our stomachs were telling us that in the rush to satisfy our hunger, we had consumed far more food than we needed. We were in serious pain.
The story might have ended there, three young adults having learned a much needed lesson about the consequences of gluttony. However, the most important part of our story was only beginning. Just as our bodies belatedly registered the sheer volume of food we had consumed, the phone rang. It was a sweet, elderly widow from one of the wards we served in, wondering if we had forgotten our dinner appointment at her home. Oops. She had everything on the table, just waiting for us. Oh dear. Oh dear, dear, dear.
Not wishing to hurt her feelings, there was really only one thing we could say. We let her know we were just walking out the door and would be at her home in ten minutes. Slowly we shuffled to our car, all the while wishing we could just collapse on the floor and repent of our overindulgence. More than any other door approach of our missions, we dreaded knocking on the door of our kind hostess. How could we force another morsel of food past our lips and into our bloated bellies? Yet one look at the exquisitely set table, the impressive meal prepared for us, and we knew we could not possibly disappoint the dear lady who had obviously spent hours creating an absolute feast for three undeserving girls.
What followed was one of the most physically painful evenings of our young lives. Pasting on smiles, stiffly exclaiming over the lovely meal set before us, my companions and I pried open our mouths and forced tiny bites of creamy potatoes, savory meat, and perfectly roasted vegetables down our throats until we nearly choked from the effort. Oh, and let’s not forget the generous portion of dessert our hostess dished up for each of us, remarking that we ate like birds compared to the missionaries she had fed in the past. Obviously she had not witnessed the spectacle in our kitchen forty five minutes earlier.
On any other night of our missions—any other night—we might have wept for joy to be offered such a meal. Yet, there we were, stifling groans because we had no room for the feast. Finally, my companions and I politely excused ourselves and drove back home where we basically lay down and wished to die. We had not previously known that extreme overeating could cause us to fear we might actually explode. With the exception of a few nights when I had a serious case of stomach flu, this was the only evening of my mission that I did not go out contacting or teaching or participating in some form of missionary work. I simply could not.
For years afterward, when I swapped light-hearted mission stories with friends, this is one I often shared, because it usually got a laugh. It took more than a decade for me to recognize the spiritual parallels of my physical experience: The sumptuous spiritual banquet daily set before me. And me, at times, standing before the table with no room for the feast, having stuffed myself with whatever I could easily grab to satisfy my inner hunger. I am left to wonder how many spiritual feasts have gone unappreciated in my lifetime because I was already full of lesser fare.
This is one of the great struggles of our day: making room for the bountiful feast God has provided for us. In the book of Amos we read: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall … run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12) While there have certainly been periods of famine of hearing the words of the Lord, this is not one of those times.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are not lacking spiritual food to feast on. I once added up the page numbers of the standard works (in English) and was happy to discover that we have two thousand four hundred seventy six pages of holy writ—eight hundred eighty six of which have come to us through the latter-day restoration. Add to this the tremendous blessing of having living prophets in the land, and our ability to easily access their words. We can hold this spiritual feast in the palm of our hand every time we pick up our smart phone. We can even listen to the actual voices of modern prophets and apostles if we wish. Truly, the banquet table is overflowing.
As mortals, we are in need of constant spiritual nourishment. How, exactly, does the word of God help meet our nutritional requirements? Consistent spiritual feasting can bring comfort to a troubled spirit or aching heart, providing hope in seasons of serious trial. Feasting fills us with pure doctrine—light and truth—setting us free from Satan’s deceptions and exposing the philosophies of men. Enjoying a healthy portion of God’s word leaves our hearts softer, open to the Holy Spirit, leaving us more likely to show charity to others. As we feast on the word of the Lord and His prophets, the great plan of happiness is slowly revealed to us, and we begin to see with greater clarity what truly matters. We are able to “lay aside the things of this world and seek for the things of a better.” (D&C 25:10)
If our first act each morning is to reach for our phone or tablet, flooding our minds with streams of information and images, advertisements, games, or videos—however innocent any of these may seem–we are filling ourselves in a way that may decrease our appetite for anything of a spiritual nature, diminishing our capacity to appreciate the subtle flavors of a spiritual meal. By beginning each day at God’s table, feasting from His menu, we take the edge off the sharp cravings of the natural man. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” (Luke 12:31)
How about one more food story? I promise this one has a happy ending: It happens every year in early August. My husband walks in the house after work, deposits his briefcase on the kitchen floor, and heads straight out the back door. His mission: to seek out ripe ears of corn. For three or four days this ritual is repeated faithfully, until Brad hits the jackpot. I know when this occurs because I can see him standing behind the garden, shucking corn and tossing the husks over the pasture fence to our eager animals. His smile, as he hands me a pile of pearly cobs, is priceless.
For Brad, tasting the first garden corn of the season is nearly a religious experience. His usually impeccable table manners are checked at the door on these occasions. After slathering the golden ears with an obscene amount of butter, then salting and peppering with a liberal hand, the most anticipated moment of his summer has arrived. The family stares in rapt attention as their normally reserved father chomps his way recklessly through multiple ears of corn, butter literally dripping from his chin. Then the kids watch in horrified fascination as dad makes his way deliberately over to their giggling mother (yep, that’s me) and plants a big, fat, buttery kiss right on her lips! No one who has watched this summertime spectacle can doubt that they have witnessed some serious feasting.
My husband’s enjoyment of the corn is in direct proportion to the amount of effort he expends during the spring tilling and planting, the weeding and watering in the heat of summer. He has earned the right to savor the feast. And you can bet he comes hungry. On the days he is anticipating those first sweet ears of corn, you couldn’t pay him enough to swing by McDonald’s for a Big Mac on the way home from the office—no matter how loudly his stomach may growl. He has developed a serious craving for homegrown corn, and he allows nothing to get between him and his cobs. Nothing else on his plate is touched until he has made his way through at least three buttery ears. This man knows how to feast.
We have been invited to “…feast upon the words of Christ…” (2 Nephi 32:3) Come to His table daily. And be sure to come hungry, “… that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19)