I used to think that people with food allergies were weird. I’m sorry, but I did. It’s not that you were evil, just strange, and for some people, probably also a little culpable.
But now I have a food allergy. Now, I’m the guy at Panera who asks to see an ingredient list when he orders. I had to do this the other day and it caused a scene. The kind woman taking orders couldn’t find the book with all the info, and then she couldn’t find the manager, and then the manager was busy, and when he finally came to the rescue, he wasn’t sure where the book was either.
Conversations around me stopped. I could feel people roll their eyes at me. When another cash register was opened and a worker said, “I can take your order here,” people ran from my line like it was Black Friday and they were giving away TVs.
But this isn’t an article to raise awareness about microaggressions, inflicted or absorbed. Paul writes, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is a post to offer three ways to eat and drink to the glory of God or rather, because of food allergies, not eat and drink to the glory of God.
1. Cast your cares upon God when your health is unpredictable.
If you have a food allergy, you probably also have unpredictable heath and, at least at first, an unclear diagnosis. This is frustrating, painful, and sometimes scary.
Consider what happened to friends of mine. Their son, after his first birthday, stopped gaining weight. He was constantly ill. My friends were confused and so were their doctors. So, they put cameras inside their infant and sent his blood to laboratories. His health got worse, and the diagnosis remained elusive, so elusive in fact that the doctors began to insinuate that my friends were not feeding their son or possibly even doing something worse.
On the recommendation of a classmate, they made a diet change to avoid a certain allergen, and their son’s health improved. It turns out that my friends were poisoning their son, unknowingly of course, with normal food; three normal meals a day stunted his growth.
In the last year, I’ve also learned about the frustration and fear of living with unpredictable health and an unclear diagnosis. Despite similar camera probes and blood work, randomly I’ll end up sick on the floor of my living room in pain for a few days while my concerned children ask their mother, “Is Dad going to be okay?” And once, while preaching during the first service at our church, I started to feel sickness coming. Between services, I said a prayer, popped a pill, and then tried to preach my second sermon. I made it, but it was miserable.
You might not be a preacher, but likely you have moments that require extra concentration and effort; yet because of your allergy, randomly, you have neither.
If we only focus on intensifying our medical efforts to solve our problems, we’ll miss some of what God wants to teach us. Instead, let’s use these reminders of our frailty to cause us to cling tighter to our God who is not frail (Isaiah 40:26). Let’s remember that our health is only unpredictable and our diagnosis unclear to us. Not to God! When your anxiety abounds, cast it upon the God who cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
2. Value favor from God more than attention from people.
If you have a food allergy, you probably experience moments of social ostracism. That’s what most of my friends with severe allergies tell me; they’ve all noticed not being invited to gatherings nearly as often as before. And consider what happens at my daughter’s school cafeteria. Off in the far corner, there’s a tiny area labeled, “Peanut-Free Zone.” The kids who have to sit at that table might use the word ostracism; that is, if they weren’t in third grade.
Personally, I don’t feel ostracized. But I certainly hate being singled out. For example, a few months ago I was at a fundraiser. As I went through the buffet line, I slowly began to realize that although there were fifteen or twenty different things to eat, I was only going to be able to eat one of them: plain lettuce. Yummy. But it was not the meal that bothered me; it was the attention. While standing in line, four separate people made jokes about what I was eating (and not eating), and there were more when I went back to my table.
I’m sure that if I planned better, I could avoid this social attention (or inattention). But I also want to use experiences like this to examine my heart. I want to know: Why is it that my heart is so hungry for acceptance from others? The surface answer to this question will vary, but the root is likely always the same: I haven’t feasted on the favor I have with God through the gospel, and therefore, I’m starving for praise from others. What I need is to receive my food allergies as an invitation to feast on Jesus who always satisfies fully (John 6:55–57).
3. Trust the great Provider when daily bread becomes expensive.
Buying food free of certain allergens is expensive. Depending on how strategically you shop and how severe your allergy, your grocery expenses could increase significantly. Consider that gluten-free bread costs more than double the price of regular bread. The other day, my wife came home from the grocery store in tears. “How are we going to pay for this?” she asked. I gave her a hug and said, “I don’t know.”
I’m sure we will have enough money, and I’m sure we’ll learn to shop smarter; but that’s not the first place God wants us to focus. Instead, God wants our family to be praying, “Lord, give us our daily, gluten-free bread.” He wants us to consider the lilies and consider the birds. God clothes the lilies; he feeds the birds. And if he cares for these, our allergies can be a reminder to us of how much more he will care for us, his children (Matthew 6:25–34).
Organic Food, Essential Oils, and the Gospel of Grace: While eating organic foods and using non-traditional medicine certainly can be valuable, the danger comes when we develop a sense of superiority to go along with it.
God Is in the Grocery Aisle: Peace does not come from my grocery list, a quota of calories, or the food pyramid.
Is It a Sin to Smoke or Eat Junk Food?: In this episode of Ask Pastor John, John Piper says that the way we treat our bodies is spiritually significant.