The Spiritual Discipline of Feasting


This Thanksgiving, my family is smack in the middle of a time of peace and abundance so, in many ways, it’s been relatively easy to count my blessings. This year has brought us our first house, a fantastic job, the chance to live close to family, and multiple opportunities to use and develop our gifts.It hasn’t always been this way. Quite frankly, we’ve had years when we simply didn’t feel like celebrating.  Like the Thanksgiving that my husband was unemployed and we had to be out of our house by the end of November with no idea of where we were going next. Or the following year, when he was employed but working an entry level job that kept us home for the holidays and far from family. Or any of the times our Thanksgiving dinner was bought with food stamps because despite having three college degrees between us, working hard, living frugally, and carrying no debt, you simply can't raise a family of five on $9-11/hr.

Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned through those lean times, it’s the necessity of celebrating when you don’t feel like it and the importance of feasting when you think you can’t afford to. And to celebrate, not in spite of the difficulties or by tricking yourself into forgetting the struggles; but to celebrate precisely because of them.

Throughout human history, feasting has been the privilege of the rich, to be enjoyed by those who could afford it while fasting was the daily existence of the masses. Even today feasting and fasting are often little more than economic realities applied to the dinner table. But in his wisdom, our God turns even economic realities on their head--in his divine wisdom, he actually commands us to do both.

For those of us who are rich in this world, fasting becomes a way to remind ourselves of our spiritual poverty, of our dependence on Him for our daily bread.  But for those who are poor in this world—whether in spirit or pocket book—it is the feast that requires more faith and is ultimately more instructive. For in the feast, in those fleeting moments of abundance, we remind ourselves that through His generous grace, we are indeed rich.

When Moses was instructing the fledgling nation of Israel about how to celebrate the riches of the harvest, he said this:

Before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you…then you shall turn it into money… and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire…whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. (Deuteronomy 14:22-26)

So celebrate--use your money for luxury instead of frugality--because in doing so you dedicate it in praise to the One who ultimately cares for you. You show your dependence on him by consuming it instead of saving it. You show your thankfulness for his provision by receiving it and rejoicing in it. And as you do, you remind yourself that all the budgeting, all the couponing, all the thrift in the world means nothing to a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.So while this is probably not Dave Ramsey approved, here’s a piece of unconventional holiday advice: even if you think you can’t afford to celebrate this Thanksgiving, you really can’t afford not to.

You must find a way--whether small or great—to mark this coming Thursday as a day distinct, as a day of thankfulness and dependence. And one way to do that is to dedicate yourself to the spiritual discipline of feasting. Roast the turkey, mash the potatoes, and heap massive gobs of real whipped cream on top of that pumpkin pie. And then sit down and delight. For one day, for one moment, feel no guilt, no worry, no fear about what tomorrow holds. And rejoice. Because in your poverty, in your loneliness, this is your sacrifice. Your sacrifice is letting go of the pain, letting go of the weight in your soul and reminding yourself through the briefest moment of luxury that your God cares for you and that he always will.