Sweet Potatoes and Spiritual Growth

I happen to not like sweet potatoes. I don’t like the pies, I don’t like them as an alternative to a baked potato, and I certainly view making them into french fries as a capital offense. So, you can imagine my horror when my wife asked me to pick up some sweet potatoes on Friday night. Apparently, it’s time for our son to start eating solid foods.

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My wife and I had no idea how Finn would react to the sweet potatoes. As much as I was grossed out by the idea of my son enjoying the creepy uncle of the potato family, I loved seeing him take that first bite. Puzzled at first, yes, but he still knew what to do with it—swallow.

And you know what? He enjoyed it. It was written all over his face: the dramatic evidence of a battle with the armies of sweet potato and a victorious smile. In the heat of it all, a moment of clarity—my son was eating “solid” food, and I would be lying to say I wasn’t somewhat proud.

But here’s the thing: I want more for my son that mushed up bits of natures saddest vegetable. I want more for him than to need his mother and I to feed him one bite at a time. I want to teach him about bacon. I want him to know how to properly identify a black licorice jelly bean before he makes the mistake of assuming it’s grape-flavored. I want him to know that Rite Aid is the only place in town you can buy discounted, Sparkle Cherry Laffy Taffy.

You can tell I love candy, but what about real food? Son, steak isn’t meant to be eaten well done, and people who eat it that way are either cowards or rednecks. And buffalo wings are served with celery so that you can have the joy of knowing that you’re not eating the celery. Fried okra is good at a lot of places but it was meant to be eaten the way your Great-grandmother makes it. And one day, when you’re old enough, please understand that light beer is only for women and for very sad men.

There are so many things I want him to taste, to experience, to love. But for now, he’s sucking down sweet potatoes. It’s not yet time for him to have things like bacon, Captain Crunch, and peanut brittle.

Born three weeks early, little Finn was having trouble eating at first. I fed him with a medicine dropper before he was able to really latch onto his mother. I was so pleased and thankful when several pounds later he could put down a whole bottle, or drain his mother dry. As his father, I simply loved watching him grow and mature at the slow and steady rate he was taking. There were set backs with his appetite on occasion, but his overall path has been one of growth and maturation.

I think one thing I’ve struggled with lately is the concept of having arrived. It’s all too common a problem for many Christian men and women, especially in my context of the south. We are taught the truth of God, we believe the truth of God, and then we think we move on from a need of the constant, life-invading truth of God. We think we’re mature, despite very little evidence of actual growth. But our Father wants more for us, too.

The Bible uses the metaphor of milk vs. solid food. Milk is for the immature, and solid food is for the mature. New believers are encouraged by Peter to “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it [they] may grow up into salvation” (I Peter 2.2).  By this he means that we study and learn the word of God in fellowship with the Holy Spirit, that we might actually grow in our faith. 

But there’s a backside to the concept of spiritual milk with Christian believers. Too often, we tend to like our bottles more than we do the deeper, chewier aspects of the faith. I’m thrilled with my son growing strong on breast milk and mushy bits of sweet potato, but if he’s five years old and still on the teat, there’s something wrong.

On this point, the author of the letter, Hebrews has a striking point:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity… (Hebrews 5.11-6.1)

So, the Bible clearly encourages an elementary pursuit of God (milk), but always with the idea in mind that we move into deeper waters of the faith (solid food). This is a struggle for me. I so want to applaud my spiritual sweet potatoes, and check the box as completed because I know Christ and read my Bible more than I want to and less than I should.

If I had to guess, the average Christian in the Southeast presents themselves as the accomplished foodie, when in reality we’ve got our faces covered in sweet potato gore. Despite our well-cut teeth and aged bodies, we settle for the kiddie table and never move on to the spiritual diet that our souls long for. Bite by bite, we’re spoon-fed on Sundays, but never take hold of the fork and seriously study the Bible for ourselves. We read Jesus Calling but never pick up the phone and have a meaningful, prayerful conversation.

What’s interesting to me is that this is actually what my soul craves. And, if you’re a true Christian believer, your soul craves this too. But our bottles are easy and familiar, our lives are busy and complicated, and Netflix is seemingly infinite, now with autoplay. 

Oh, God, save us from a spiritual diet of mushy, flavorless mediocrity. And give us an unquenchable desire for the solid food of your presence.

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