“Then a voice told him ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’” Acts 10:13-15
When Caleb was about seven months old, my grandma gave him part of a cinnamon roll.
It was Christmas brunch at my parents house, and we were happily drinking coffee around their big table. Caleb was a few seats down from me, and so it escaped my notice that he had been eating off Grandma’s plate. As a new mother, I was horrified. I had been carefully introducing one pureed vegetable at a time, several days apart, just like all the books said to do. At this point in his life, the only things he’d tasted other than his mama’s milk were sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash. And here he was wolfing down on a gooey, sugary pastry whose ingredient list was probably as long as my arm.
It took all my self-control to gently suggest that he had probably had enough, and could I please have him back?
Looking back, I can see that it was over-exaggeration to the situation at hand. Sure, it probably would have been better if he hadn’t had it, but no one in my immediate family or Jason’s has food allergies, and no one is sensitive to gluten. There was little risk involved in letting him have those few bites, and it didn’t hurt him at all in the long run. These days, Caleb happily eats plenty of fruit and veggies, and any sweet tooth he has acquired is more likely due to my propensity to eat cookies in the kitchen when I think he’s not looking than that one taste on Christmas morning almost three years ago.
But I still remember how I felt at the time, and I know I’m not alone. Almost every other mother with whom I’ve shared this story (especially those with young children like mine) has her own vivid memory of a time someone fed her child a food she deemed it too soon for them to have against her wishes. Most of them are as upset by that memory as they would be if they were telling about a time that someone had intentionally harmed their child.
What is it about food that we take these issues so personally?
It all goes back to the garden.
Adam and Eve broke the one rule they were given, one that was about food, and ever since then we have been trying to make up for their mistake by making up our own rules about what we should and shouldn’t eat, and then following them to prove our own self-righteousness.
This is something I have become more and more aware of as I have been striving, over the last several years, to minimize processed foods in my family’s diet, and consume more wholesome, natural, and organic foods. It started with little things when Jason and I were first married. We bought more expensive sliced cheese for our sandwiches, mostly because neither of us liked American “cheese” as much as cheddar or jack cheese, and we were both working, so we could afford it. Then I quit my job to stay home with Caleb, and I started making a lot of things from scratch both out of necessity, to save money, and as a new hobby to keep my long days at home busy with something other than diaper changes and talk shows. The more I learned how to make things, and the more I read online about the chemicals and processes it takes to make a lot of the food items available in grocery stores, the less I wanted to eat those things as a steady diet.
But I also noticed that this growing awareness, and the healthier choices I was making fostered a false sense of pride in my heart.
I would look at the items on the conveyor belt ahead of mine, and without knowing anything else about her, I felt superior the mom in front of me who was spending her money on soda and snack cakes, while I was buying fresh fruit and whole oats.
“I would never feed my children that garbage,” I would think smugly to myself.
I was full of my own rule-following, just like Peter. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean,” he says to the Lord.
But my small, egotistic, puffed-up pleasure was as fragile, as all flavors of self-righteousness are. The second I was in the presence of someone who was making even healthier choices than I was, I felt deflated. Inferior. Like a failure. I just couldn’t measure up. So I’d start talking about the healthy things I was doing, hoping desperately my friends wouldn’t find out that I hated baking with whole wheat flour or that my kids ate boxed mac & cheese for lunch the day before.
I would do well in those moments to remember what God told Peter.
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
The food isn’t what God was really talking about here.
It was you.
It was me.
Almost immediately after Peter had this vision, he was summoned to the house of a Gentile, a place a devout Jew would never enter because it would make him unclean. Following the guidance of the spirit of God, Peter went anyway, and preached the gospel to a gathering of non-Jews. They believed the word of the Lord, and were baptized in the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that God would pour out his spirit on “all people” (Joel 2:28).
This is why we, people who are not of Jewish decent, are afforded with the gracious gift of being grafted in among God’s people.
Take a moment and let that sink in.
Romans 11 describes the nation of Israel as an olive tree, and Gentiles as wild shoots. But God saw us anyway and grafted us onto his cultivated plant, his chosen descents of Abraham.
It’s only by God’s grace that you’ve been called clean. Not by any of your own efforts.
We have to remember this as we grow in the Lord. We have to remember it as we buy our groceries or eat in each other’s homes. We have to remember it as we regard each other’s choices about food.
I said it three weeks ago, and I’ll say it again, even if only for my own benefit: no matter what diet we choose, we cannot eat our way back into the garden.
So if you’re a crunchy mama who always makes her own fruit snacks with organic sugar and eats edamame like it’s candy, let’s be friends.
And if you eat fast food five nights a week, and buy junk food like it’s going out of style, let’s be friends.
I think most of us are somewhere in the middle, but no matter what you eat or feed your family, I don’t want to be guilty of calling anything impure that God has made clean.
And that’s you.
God has made you clean.
Who am I to say otherwise?
This post is part of a 31-day series. A list of all the other posts in this series can be found here.