Time at college, camps, mission trips, and with distant relatives typically includes at least one experience with mystery meat. I could pretty easily live life without any meat, but mystery meat is particularly unappetizing to me. I’d rather eat just about any other type of protein (tofu included). Being unable to recognize a texture that used to belong to an unidentified animal just isn’t how I want to spend a meal. Yet, living in the Deep South for over a year has caused me to discover a food more confusing than mystery meat (though there are plenty of new mystery meats here too).
That food is grits.
Until moving to the Deep South, I thought Oklahoma was pretty southern. I was absolutely wrong. I honestly don’t know where Oklahoma fits geographically, but it’s certainly not the Deep South. In the Deep South grits are served with practically every meal. People mix grits with foods I would have never considered: cheese, shrimp, bacon, sausage, ketchup, honey, berries, cream cheese, corn (which seems slightly redundant in my opinion)…you name it, it’s probably been added to grits at some point! While I have instant oatmeal packets on hand at all times, many of my southern friends have grits. (I had no idea instant grit packets even existed!)
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike grits. I just don’t really get the point. They’ve always seemed kind of bland and unnecessary. Until recently.
At the country club where I work employees get a free meal per shift. While the country club members eat gourmet meals, we are given less exquisite dining options. Regardless, I am grateful for these meals. There is always something satisfying to eat. (The few times there was a mystery meat I just couldn’t stomach, there has always been a salad bar with at least lettuce, tomatoes, eggs, and dressing.) A couple weeks ago I was really hungry while I was heading to the break room. As I was walking up there I kept repeating “just something good, just something good.” I arrived and saw something new served (which is unusual, it’s basically an unpredictable rotation of certain meals). I was excited to see chicken and vegetables, but there was also some sort of grain that I couldn’t identify. After getting the chicken and vegetables, I decided to give the grain a shot. (After all, once I couldn’t identify an item and it turned out to be bread pudding.) The grain turned out to be grits, but these grits were seasoned like rice or potatoes. They actually enhanced my meal!
Admittedly, my eating habits at the country club resemble those of a toddler. I’m normally not a picky eater, but for some reason I often have to trick myself to finish each meal. (Don’t worry, I’m not pretending my spoon is an airplane. It’s more like mixing things together to hide the flavor of certain foods.) I normally eat the food as a discipline, not a joy. I only do that because I know the purpose of food, even when it’s as confusing as mystery meat or grits.
This confusing discipline reminds me of prayer (though I’ve experienced a lot more overall joy through prayer than I have any food, especially the country club’s food).
I don’t understand prayer. It’s more confusing to me than mystery meat or grits. There are so many questions with prayer. God already has a plan, so does it really make a difference if I pray? When I pray for something and it doesn’t happen, is God just not answering? There are all sorts of Bible verses or theological books I could reference, but ultimately prayer is still confusing.
Yet, we still pray. Maybe we pray out of desperation. Maybe we pray out of thankfulness. Maybe we pray out of adoration. Maybe we pray out of brokenness. But sometimes we just pray out of discipline. Like eating or maintaining any relationship, sometimes we just pray to survive. We may not understand what’s going on or even necessarily look forward to it, but we do it anyway. Sometimes we feel about like we did before praying, but other times we feel better. Like some foods don’t visibly enhance a meal, prayer may not always seem to visibly enhance our lives.
But prayer is a spiritual lifeline, just like food is a physical one. We can’t survive without it. I don’t understand every intricate detail involved in digestion (nor would I want to), but I’m not willing to risk physical starvation just to test instructions I’ve been given. I may not have experienced starvation, but I’ve heard of people starting. I also know how bad it feels when I miss even one meal. Similarly, I don’t understand every intricate detail involved in prayer, but I’m not willing to risk spiritual starvation just to test those instructions either. The Lord’s protected me from spiritual starvation as much as He has from physical starvation, but I’ve also seen numerous people starve spiritually. I also know how bad it feels when I go even a short time without prayer.