If we think about all the things in our lives that drive us to eat when we're not really hungry, it's fairly simple to see that what we're dealing with is primarily a series of spiritual problems.
Maybe we're overly tired. The later it gets at night, the more likely we are to sneak into the kitchen for a snack, only to realize we are hundreds of calories heavier but no less tired. Not only is it that for whatever reason, we don't want to go to bed; we have forgotten entirely how to rest. We don't know how to turn off, shut down, unplug, unwind, and actually give ourselves the rest that we need.
Rest is a spiritual discipline, from as early as the time of Genesis 1. There's something about creating the space to just relax for awhile, to take the pressure off, to stop creating our world for just one minute and let things be. We've forgotten how to do this, and the more our souls ache for rest, the hungrier we seem to feel when the real issue isn't hunger at all. It's exhaustion. It's weariness.
Like I said yesterday, any ache of emptiness will do.
Maybe we're bored. The longer we sit around feeling like there's nothing to do, the more likely we are to start wandering around, seeing if there's something to eat. It happens all the time. All of a sudden, we're standing in the kitchen, going through the pantry for the thousandth time this hour, knowing there's nothing new in there, but nibbling just the same and trying to figure out what it is we "want."
What we "want" here is tricky because with boredom, there are two potential spiritual issues at play. The first is very similar to the former point - it's an issue of rest. We have so much become human doings that we have forgotten how to become human beings, and when forced simply to be, rather than to do, we become human eatings. Human hungerings. It's not that we are actually hungry; we just don't know what to do with ourselves when we're not doing anything.
On nearly the opposite end of the spectrum, boredom is a sense of a loss of purpose. Either what we're doing doesn't feel worthwhile or we don't have a clear sense at all of what we're doing. This is the proverbial "rut," and it doesn't feel good. So we wander mindlessly, searching for something with meaning, and when we cannot find it, we settle for something with flavor.
Maybe we're simply dissatisfied with life. That's a rut, too. Maybe things just aren't what we thought they'd be by now. Maybe we're not who we thought we'd be. Maybe we haven't arrived where we thought we were going and life is just one shortcoming after another after another until it just doesn't matter any more whether we have one more cookie or another box of crackers or a whole rotisserie chicken. We eat away at our emptiness, not realizing that each bite leaves merely a bigger hole to fill.
Dissatisfaction, depression, despair...these are all spiritual problems. Even on the more mild end - restlessness - it's spiritual.
What is, perhaps, most disheartening here is that on some level, we know this truth. We know it's spiritual. How do we know that we know? Because it's not always physical food we're running toward. Sometimes, we're running toward spiritual nourishment just as hard. It's not always peeking in the pantry or rummaging through the fridge; it's just as often flipping through the Bible and humming through a hymn. We know it's spiritual. But we still think it's hunger.
And the truth is, most spiritual problems aren't satisfied with food. We simply can't feed them away.
More on that tomorrow.