When I was a child, love often looked like an empty plate. “Eat! Eat!” my loved ones would say, as they pushed all manner of gastronomical delights towards us. Nobody ever told me to stop eating. Nobody ever told me that my appetite was too much. They simply delighted in my delight. Because they wanted me to grow.
But you know the story. At some point, there was a shift. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment, but the message was crystal clear to my young self: somewhere around 15, it became evident that my appetite exceeded the space that others were willing to give to it.
This wasn’t just about food, mind you. I was simply “too much” for many of the people in my life, especially my peers. I was too loud. Too opinionated. Too naive. Too unguarded. Too hungry.
What was once a delight became a source of shame. A problem to hide and deny. A monster to punish and constrain.
What happens to us, that turns so many of us into deprivation machines? Why is it that so many of us (myself included here) came to the conclusion that our appetites are shameful? That we can not trust our own hunger?
For over ten years, I raged with a hunger that could not be filled, could not be filled in part because I would not let it. And I would not let it because the world whispered at me that this self-denial was the only path to happiness for a good girl like me. I grew accustomed to living with less than my body needed–less food, less love, less attention, less passion. I settled (GOD I hate that word) and told myself that it was enough.
One of the only places where I felt like my hunger was welcomed was in the church. There, I met people who told me it was holy to hunger and thirst for righteousness. I found people whose appetite for fellowship was unbounded. Who talked too much, drank too much, loved one another too much. I closed out diners in Cambridge with dear friends as we shared a vision for a new kind of church and shared a communion of stale chocolate chip cookies and grape juice. I made a home with fellow radicals in Philadelphia who dreamed of a city where the poor and the rich shared a table piled high with good food together, and then we did it. And when I became a pastor, people celebrated my “too muchness” because it turned out that passion is infectious.
As I experienced the satisfaction of being more of myself, I have started to wonder what is holding me back in my personal life. If God accepts my too muchness in the company of fellow travelers, why would God not embrace me if I were fully myself in the rest of my life? And what would that even begin to look like? I have lived a constrained self for so long, I suspect it will take time to figure out what it feels like to embrace the freedom of simply being me. But when I look back to my childhood, I am reminded that the answer will likely put delight at the center. Delight in my body. Delight in myself. Delight in the experience of being created in the image of God.