By Donna Lee Schillinger
She who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.
I spent my junior year in Spain. During Christmas break, I decided to travel to Morocco by myself. Call me crazy – a lot of people did. Since my college years were characterized by poverty, an 11-day African holiday was a stretch, but I ventured out, having the wherewithal to buy round trip tickets for each leg of my trip. Come what may, as long as I didn’t lose my tickets, I could make it back. Sure enough, my money ran out before the trip ended. When I arrived in Seville, Spain, back from Morocco, I had just enough money to stay the night in a hotel room no larger than a walk-in closet. I couldn’t afford to eat dinner that night and I would have to go the whole next day without eating too.
It’s not a huge ordeal to fast for a day and a half when you’re at home in your element, but at the exhausting end of a hard-traveled road, the body needs good nourishment. Unless I wanted to beg though, and I did consider it, I was going to have to wait until I got to Salamanca to eat.
My bus didn’t leave until the afternoon, so I had the morning to see some sights. Seville is a beautiful city with streets lined with orange trees. While strolling along the streets, those oranges were starting to look pretty good. Someone had told me they were not edible; they were an ornamental variety of orange and very bitter. In our proverb lived out, I was so hungry I didn’t care what people had told me — I was going to try it for myself. I was ravenous; I would have eaten the bark off the tree. The reports were true that the oranges were not edible, but I ate a few bites of it anyway, thinking that I was at least getting some vitamin C.
After a long, hungry day, I made it back home around midnight. And then I ate a huge meal and got so full that I couldn’t even finish my dessert.
This is no story of chronic hunger of the sort we really should have compassion on. This is just an old travel tale about one day that I went from being so desperate I would eat something bitter and be thankful for it, to the other extreme, being so full I pushed away dessert.
Human appetites are fickle. We can experience both extremes in one day. When we have a need to be satisfied, we feel desperate enough to try anything. When that need is finally satiated, we disdain the very thing we had been wildly craving only minutes before.
Strong cravings cause us to do irrational things – like Esau did when he sold his place as first-born son, and all the privilege that went with it, for a bowl of lentil stew. “What an idiot!” we say. Esau didn’t do anything any of us are not capable of doing when we’re hungry for something – food, sex, affection, attention. Unsatisfied emotional appetites can wreak the most havoc.
I could have avoided my desperate situation in Seville with better planning. And on a daily basis, I can avoid satisfying my hunger with junk food by having some healthy snacks on hand in anticipation of hunger pangs throughout the day. It’s not so easy to advise how to avoid having an unsatisfied emotional appetite. Emotional hunger may have developed from years of rejection, neglect or poverty. The best advice I can give is to recognize, right now while we’re in a rational state of mind, that appetites can make us do some crazy stuff. Respect the appetite. Though we might not be able to avoid having the yearning appetite, we can avoid the desperate act to satisfy it using one solid piece of advice that James gave us – and it works in any tempting situation: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” We must resist temptation to sell ourselves for a “quick meal” to satisfy our cravings – both physical and emotional – because after we get what we so longed for, we’ll find ourselves wondering how we ever could have been so desperate.
Hold this thought: When I am feeling my weakest, it’s then I need to hold on.