“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun?(Eccl 8:15).
This is the wisdom of life from King Solomon.
THE JOY OF EATING
The first day I volunteered at the hospital, I was assigned to help patients with swallowing disorders in the dining room. Although I had already learned that brain-damaged people could have swallowing disorders, I was truly shocked by the actual sight of these patients.
Sitting around a dining room table, I observed how four stroke patients tried extremely hard to eat their specially prepared food—all with shaky hands. Because of their physical limitations, none of the patients could eat their food without splattering it all over the dining room table, their clothes, and their faces.
Some of the patients ate so fast they began to choke; others would vomit what they had just eaten. However, none of the patients I saw gave up their heart to eat.
Observing their satisfied faces, it seemed as if they were enjoying the most delicious meal of their life. However, the irony of the situation was that their dishes were nothing more than low-fat, low-salt, and low-sugar mashed food—food without flavor or taste to most people.
But I saw their eager hearts burst forth with these messages: “Let me eat more! One more bite and my heart will be fully satisfied?and “Being able to eat again is my greatest pleasure.?
Watching them, I suddenly realized how being able to eat, drink, and be glad are truly great blessings from the Lord. I used to think “eating and drinking?were mere reflexes.
To these patients, however, eating was much more than a reflex—it was a joy.
Relearning How to Eat
To truly understand their situation, we need to understand how these patients used to eat. Before attempting to eat solid food, these patients underwent a NPO (nothing pass oral cavity) period, during which they neither drank nor ate solid food.
The patients could only use a tube to feed themselves. Through the tubes, they would see how the “food?was fed into their stomachs. In order to eat safely, these patients had to relearn how to eat; otherwise, they could choke or become infected with life-threatening pneumonia.
Being able to eat and drink are privileges we often take for granted. Unlike these patients, most of us have never undergone the whole arduous process of relearning how to eat, so we often don’t realize that our ability to eat and drink is a blessing.
For these stroke patients, eating and drinking were a matter of life and death, which was why they cherished every opportunity they had to eat. In fact, they cherished their opportunities to the point that they no longer seemed to care about how tasteless their food was or how undignified they appeared to others as they splattered food everywhere.
Through this experience, I learned invaluable life lessons: we must each treasure our God-given ability to eat, drink, and be glad; we must each treasure the opportunities God has given to us.
While we may not suffer any physical affliction that would prevent us from eating, drinking, and being glad, we may be encumbered with spiritual infirmities that hinder us from eating, drinking, and being glad in the Lord.
There was a particular period in my life when I thought I would never again find peace or contentment within my spirit. Though I would often participate in church services and activities, my heart and spirit felt dead. My fellowship with other church members brought more discouragement than encouragement.
Sadly, I think many of us struggle with these same difficulties. Like myself, you too may have experienced a time when you found it difficult to enjoy the Bible’s teachings. Even now, you may not know how practicing God’s words can bring a lasting joy and peace to your heart.
And I came to realize that my faith had not been strengthened, transformed, or refined by my trials. Rather, it seemed to exhibit symptoms comparable to a spiritual swallowing disorder: the inability to open my heart to accept God’s blessings—to eat and drink from His table and cup.
God’s words no longer brought the joy it should have brought. I could no longer find fulfillment within the Lord or within my life.
Losing My Way
Throughout those dark years of my life, I tried very hard to pursue closeness with God on my own terms; however, the more I tried the more frustrated I became. I reached a point where my whole life was clouded by doubt and uncertainty. Spiritually, I felt as if I was mired in a quicksand—slowly sinking with every move.
I was lost in a “big way?and did not have enough strength or heart to return and rest upon God (Isa 30:15). I felt extremely burned out. I was tired, so tired, and so afraid of what trials and difficulties lay ahead of me that I felt paralyzed. I can’t fully express the burden I felt in my heart during that period of my life.
What I do remember is that I struggled with all my might to practice God’s teachings. Yet the more I struggled, the more I felt my closeness to God slip away. Piece-by-piece, I lost my faith, my hope, and, eventually, my love.
Then, I saw these stroke patients. Sitting there in the hospital, I was deeply moved by their spirit to take one more bite out of life.
As I observed more intently, my heart slowly opened, and I began to hear a tender voice in my heart saying, “Try to eat the bread of life. Try to drink the water of life. Try to let your mind be satisfied.?
Hearing this message, I kept wondering, “What is this bread of life I am seeking??“What is this water of life I am so desperately thirsting for??I probed the depths of my heart for the answer to why I had become so discontented with my life.
“THIS IS THE WAY; WALK IN IT?
And so I tried to remember the height from which I had fallen—to find the place where I first lost my faith. I poured over the meanings of my trials and pondered the spiritual lessons to be learned. Suddenly, a Bible verse flashed across my mind:
Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teacher will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying “This is the way; walk in it.?(Isa 30:20-21)
As these verses came to me, God’s peace, which surpasses all understanding, rushed into my heart. Before, I had always tried to think of my trials as “blessings?from God; however, in my heart, I did not accept them as such.
Rationally, I would attempt to force myself to swallow my pain; yet, emotionally, I could not take even one more bite. Through His words in Isaiah 30:20-21, God allowed me to understand that all my trials, all my doubts, and all my hardships were not only “the bread of adversity and water of affliction?but also the very bread and water of life themselves.
The bread and water of life, in whatever form, are given by the Lord’s hand; we must stop and consider the Lord’s guidance and providence in the full spectrum of its colors.
Although the taste of the bread of adversity and water of affliction is bitter, experience has taught me to reflect more deeply on the meaning of life’s trials. People say, “Hindsight is 20/20.?And with hindsight, I see how God has led me throughout my difficulties—one step at a time.
Though the price of keeping God’s words seemed too high a price to pay at the time, my trials have revealed to me how God freely mended my wounded heart—one stitch at a time. And though my mind was filled with sorrows, the path I have traveled has shown me God’s goodness as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23:4).
One More Bite
So God’s voice encourages us, saying, “Whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying ‘This is the way; walk in it? (Isaiah 30:21). Now, more than ever, I can grasp the height, depth, width, and breadth of God’s love and encouragement in my life (Eph 3:18).
Reflecting on my past, I often wonder why I hesitated to eat God’s bread of adversity. Why did I shrink away from drinking the water of God’s affliction? Why did I let my trials place my life on hold? And why did I let my tribulations paralyze my faith?
The answer to all my questions may seem obvious: nobody likes to eat adversity or drink affliction. But then we realize that God’s answer is not always obvious. When I finally received God’s answer to the questions in my life, I was finally able to submit my whole being over to God.
I stretched out my hand. I opened my mouth wide. I realized that I could no longer reject the bread and water of life given by God, so I chose to let go of my own will and submit to God’s.
I decided I would take one more bite. And this time, the “bread of adversity?and “water of affliction?did not taste quite as bitter. Instead, I regained my strength and rejoiced in the Lord and in my life. And so I thought to myself, “So this is how we eat, drink, and be glad!?
I hope my experience in life can serve to encourage you in your own life experience. Let us pray that the Lord continues to guide us and give us the answers to our deepest questions, whether in times of faith or doubt, no matter the good or evil days that lay ahead of us. Amen.