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What I Learned About Hunger

September 10, 2013

Two weeks ago, I had an unexpected moment of real culture shock flying home to America. I was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean when I began watching a news report about obesity in America. The minute I heard the stories and statistics, I promise you, my mouth dropped. Because if there is one thing you rarely find in Africa, it is people overeating to the point that they’re tipping scales into the 500’s.

In fact, if there is one kind of person you can be sure to meet in the bush of Africa, it is the hungry.

In Pemba, where Mark and I were for the summer, there were moments that the requests for sips of water or food from our bags were overwhelming. But the truth is: so many are hungry. And thirsty. So we spent time daily doing what we are created to do – we offered water and food, and met needs among the poor just as Jesus taught us to do.

All summer long, I made friends and sat with them and learned their stories. And I kept thinking, hunger looks like something.

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Hunger is an interesting word we throw around in our church communities. We sing songs and study scriptures and pray words about the hunger we feel and the hopeful promise we carry that we will be filled.

I often find that the physical teaches us about what something looks like in the spiritual. And so all summer long my eyes were open for God to teach me through the hungry what it means to hunger in spirit. And here’s what I learned it looks like…

Hunger looks like Rosa, a mama I watched stand in the food line for hours waiting her chance to eat a bowl piled full of rice and beans. The wait was long – hours long – but to Rosa, it was worth it. I watched Rosa finally get her food, sit on a bench, and gobble it down in moments. And then I watched her get back in line and start waiting all over again, all because she was still hungry. Rosa taught me that hunger often looks like choosing to wait – and wait again – in order to receive the filling. 

Hunger also looks like the kids in the bush running over to me with their pieces of cooked rat. They wanted to share with everyone they could find because to them, having something means sharing it. They didn’t see the rat as some grotesque food like we may view it. They had eyes to see food, provision, filling. And they were so excited for it. They taught me that hunger looks like remaining grateful for what I have in my hands as the provision for my need.

I learned that same weekend that hunger often looks a lot like a licked-clean tuna can. I watched a young boy hold this same tin can for hours, surveying and licking clean every ounce of food within it. Why? Because hunger looks like prizing each crumb and tiny piece of food.

Honestly, I could tell you countless stories about what hunger looks like because my eyes saw it everywhere I went.

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Ever since this summer, I have asked myself how hungry I really am apart from the songs and words and declarations I proclaim.

Am I hungry enough to choose to walk out the waiting season of today because of the promised filling ahead? Am I hungry enough to be grateful for what I have in my hand, not judging it as too-little or not-enough or where-is-more? Am I hungry enough to prize each crumb I am given, celebrating and being thankful for what I have, not begrudging what I don’t?

What I know to be true is that hunger isn’t some theoretical idea in the physical or the spiritual. It’s real. And it looks likes something.

Among the hungry, you will never find crumbs lingering on the ground, being marked as unwanted or second-rate. And you will never find a feast more celebrated than one set before the eyes of the hungry. Those decidedly satisfied and uninterested in feasting may very well come to the table unimpressed, uninterested, and even underwhelmed. But the hungry – they will show up with one intention – to feast and be filled.

Within the Kingdom, it will always be the most hungry who will be the most filled. All we are to do is become and stay hungry for the food at His table that has been set before us today. Provision is not meant to be scrutinized, picked apart, or begrudgingly partaken. It is to be celebrated and feasted upon in wild thankfulness.

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Wherever you are today and whatever you are navigating, don’t forget to hunger for Him. Because out of those guttural cries deep within us, which roar in moments of hunger, come some of the most breathtaking surges of strength and grace. Hunger is the ground where exchanges are made between Heaven and earth, creating and protecting the space that allows for His hand at work in our today. When we hunger, Heaven responds and fills that deep longing within us…only to stir up more hunger.

May we stay so desperately hungry for God that our hearts belt out those songs of gratefulness again over all that is within our hands, over our present wait that promises the filling, and over our prized provision before us today.