A Psalm of Hunger

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“Man does not live by bread alone.” —Luke 4:4

F_Kathy

A few years ago my friend Christine Sine hosted a challenge during the Lent season to live on $2 a day for food because that’s more than a lot of people live on every day. The day I read about the challenge, I realized that the only things I had eaten all day were: 2 Pop-tarts, 30 conversational hearts left over from Valentine’s Day, and a row of Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies. Nice.

And telling.

The same week I had another conversation with my twins. I was done reading a story to them and asked them “What do you do when you’re hungry?”

Of course, they chimed together, “Eat!” Then I asked them “What do people in other poor countries do when they’re hungry?”

Guess what they said?

“Eat!”

Argh, wrong answer.

Of course, I immediately felt like a terrible parent. But the truth is that regardless of how much we talk about the reality of poverty around the world (which is different from the poverty they see here), it’s hard to get our head around the reality that there are people who really truly do not have food to eat, period.

Then I started thinking about some of my local friends who don’t have resources, who live on the margins economically in every way possible. They aren’t going to starve to death like they would if they lived in certain third world countries, but the stress their hunger causes is real.

Hunger looks different everywhere.

And while the issues of practical hunger are real and seem to be highlighted extra during these upcoming holiday months, I was thinking how spiritual hunger is also real.

Even though many of us reading aren’t physically hungry, my guess is that some of us–to varying degrees–have a spiritual hunger, a desire for God, an emptiness, a thirst that we’re longing to be quenched.

A long while back, When I asked the question to some friends at The Refuge, “So, what are we supposed to do when we are spiritually hungry?” the first response was “Eat chocolate ice cream!” (Classicand honest, but he had already skipped to the next question unintentionally.) The more by the book answers then ranged from “Go to God … read the Bible … connect with others … be still … spend time with God … pray … seek God …” (And everything in between.)

But then I asked the question, “What do we actually do when we are spiritually hungry? What do we go to?”

Here were some of our collective responses, at least the ones that we wrote down:

  •  Food (usually not the kind that’s good for us)
  •  A consuming focus on another person
  •  Do anything to not be alone
  •  Play solitaire for hours
  •  Mindlessly watch movies or TV
  •  Sleep
  •  Get busy
  •  Exercise (side note: I wish I had that one!)
  •  Talk, chatter on cell phone
  •  Isolate, disconnect
  •  Drink
  •  Control more

What would you add to the list? When you are spiritually hungry, what do you sometimes do to get relief?

Mine are definitely: Work harder, stay busy, talk, talk & more talk, get lost in the chaos, and start over the next day.

The truth is that all of these “little tricks” do help fill somethingat least temporarily. However, they are just substitutes and keep me distracted from the real thingmeaningful connection with God and my soul.

I am guessing I’m not the only one.

These distractions usually leave us hungry, unsatisfied.

Isaiah is my favorite Old Testament book; there is so much beauty in there. I especially like Chapter 55:1-3a, which says:

“Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?

For me, I have a weird natural tendency to avoid things that are really good for me–including God. In subtle or sometimes direct ways I avoid seeking God, pursuing God, letting God satisfy me with good things“bread and milk and honey.”

Honestly, I often don’t want to make myself that vulnerable.

But I also know that spiritual things are vulnerable. We’re talking about our souls, deep places in our hearts that long to be filled and pat answers and spiritual platitudes won’t help.

Some of you may not be able to relate. You may be filled up right now, and that’s something to honor and respect (and celebrate.) But for those of you who are struggling with talks of feasts and parties and good food and feel a longing for God in the midst, I’ve created a template you can use to write your own Psalm of Hunger, a desire for milk and bread that will satisfy.

Here’s the template to download (or if you are more free-form, just write whatever comes to mind related to hunger, a psalm of your heart).

If you decide to write one, I’d love to hear it in the comments section. If that’s too vulnerable, always love to hear what is being stirred up in you right now as you think about your hunger.

Here’s mine:

A Psalm of Hunger

Oh God, we need you. I need you.
My soul is hungry for your peace
But I keep filling myself with go and go and go and go and more go
These things never fully satisfy
They leave me empty
They leave me longing
They leave me hungry.
Help me, God.

My stomach feels full, but my heart feels tired.
Weary.
A little concerned that relief’s never coming.

Fill me with your spirit.
Alive, flowing into the places in my heart that are dry.
Fill in the cracks.

Feed me your truth.
Fill my heart with your heart.

I see you at work in people I love.
People I struggle with.
People who are struggling with you.
In small miracles that I sometimes have to strain to see.
In obvious ways I sometimes am blinded to.

Help me notice your spirit moving
Help me be aware of your presence in the big and small things.
O God, you are our God.
We need you. I need you.
I want to eat.

______________

Image credit: Jonathan Rubio H.

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Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver. A trained spiritual director, speaker, and advocate, she also blogs regularly about life and faith at kathyescobar.com and is the author of Faith Shift and Down We Go—Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus. A mom of 5 young adults and teens, she is married to Jose and lives in Arvada, Colorado.
Kathy Escobar

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  • One of the psalmists (Psalm 63) gives me words when I need them for coming to God to be filled, and I can always tell when something has been with me for a long time, because it comes out in KJV 🙂
    Oh, God, you are my God. Early will I seek thee. My soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for thee as in a dry and thirsty land where no water is to see Thy power and Thy glory so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary. Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee while I live. I will lift up my hands in Thy name. My soul satisfied as with marrow and fatness and my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips when I remember Thee upon my bed and meditate on Thee in the night watches . . .
    It goes on from there with more wonderful words, but this whole psalm is like an OT commentary for me on the first four beatitudes and some of the promises associated with them: the kingdom of heaven, comfort, and being satisfied.

  • Leah Kostamo

    Thank you, Kathy. I can so relate to the instinct to avoid the very thing I need. Why do we do this!?!? Thank you for the psalm of hunger template — very helpful. 🙂

  • Thank you for these words today, Kathy. I, too, am learning to eat (spiritually and physically) the things that are nourishing and good rather than the junk that we so often seek out. I’m saving this to reread and savor later. 🙂

  • Helen

    Thank you for this, so often I find I have got so good at filling my life with other things, I don’t even recognise the spiritual hunger. Thank you for this reminder today.

  • Hannah Kallio

    I definitely relate to that urge to numb rather than let God expose me. And you’re right, the ways we tend to numb also tend to be physically bad for us. God has challenged me a take a zero-tolerance approach to numbing, to either live with my pain or submit myself to His healing. It’s sometimes an exhausting way to live. Sometimes I wish I could coast for a while. But it puts me on a collision course with healing truth, and the truth (when I’m brave enough to face it) is worth it.

  • Gosh, I have that weird tendency too! We are twins… along with most people we know! Thanks Kathy

  • Saskia Wishart

    I just read this post now, and am inspired to take the time and write a Psalm of Hunger… thank you for creating a template for this Kathy.

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