Monday, March 3, 2014

Sometimes Going to Church Is Like Eating Broccoli

So you've been told your whole life that broccoli is good for you. There are whole books written about how important it is to eat broccoli. Your family ate broccoli together several times a week growing up, and you'd just always assumed broccoli was vitally important and you'd continue eating it several times a week forever, even after you moved away. The effects of the broccoli might not be immediate -- you might not eat it and suddenly gain superstrength like Popeye with spinach -- but it would make you healthier long-term.

And then, one day, you start realizing that you really don't like the taste of broccoli. Which is a little disconcerting, because of course you like broccoli, you're a good healthy person, everybody who eats healthily likes broccoli, that's what they do. But you realize, with a sudden shock, that you don't think you've ever liked the taste of broccoli. But you keep eating it because broccoli is good for you, your family still all eats it all the time, and if you stopped eating broccoli just because you didn't like it, everyone would be very confused.

But then a worse thing happens: You start feeling a little sick every time you eat broccoli. Not really sick, you're not throwing up or anything, but you're a little queasy and achy and don't have any appetite left, so you don't eat much for a day or two. Unfortunately, by the time you're feeling better, it's Broccoli Night again, so you eat more broccoli and you get sick again, and eventually you're just always feeling queasy and you're so tired of broccoli and you miss other foods but you can't ever eat them because you're always so nauseous from eating that broccoli.

So one night, when your mom goes to put broccoli on your plate, you politely put out your hand to stop her and say, "Actually, would it be OK if I didn't have broccoli tonight?"

She shrugs and says, "Sure, that's fine," and scoops some onto everyone else's plate. She's OK with you skipping out on the broccoli for at least one night, and you enjoy that night's meal more than you've enjoyed a meal in months.

The next couple days are great, too. You'd almost forgotten what it was like to not feel sick all the time, and you'd forgotten how much you loved other vegetables. You joyfully scarf down peas and carrots and corn, delighting in their taste, which you hadn't noticed in ages, and reassuring yourself that they must be at least as good for you as broccoli would be if it didn't make you sick all the time.

So you decline broccoli again... and again... and again. You've never felt better in your life. Eventually people start finding out you don't eat broccoli anymore, even though you try not to make a big deal out of it, but they want to know what's going on. When you say, as honestly and politely as you can, that you're taking "a break" from broccoli for awhile, they instantly start telling you how good broccoli is for you.

"I know," you say, "but it makes me sick."

"Well, maybe you need to try it with cheese. Have you tried it with cheese?"

"I have. I get a little less sick, but still sick. I'm eating a lot of spinach though!"

"No, that's not enough. You really need to eat some broccoli. Didn't you parents ever tell you that you need to eat broccoli regularly if you want to be healthy? All the health manuals say so. Besides, you should stop being so selfish. What, when everyone's eating broccoli you're just going to hide in your room secretly eating cookies all day? It's not all about you, you know."

"Thanks," you say politely, wondering how they got from "no broccoli, thanks," to smuggling cookies into your bedroom. As they leave, you wonder to yourself: How can it make me healthy when I feel so sick all the time?

Several years later, you're tired of all the broccoli arguments. You make the decision to eat broccoli now, mostly because you don't want to make your loved ones look bad for not being able to make you eat broccoli. It still makes you queasy and destroys your appetite -- you really miss corn, but haven't been able to stomach it for a month or two now. When people see you at the store buying broccoli, they rush over to say hi and give you an approving thumbs up. You smile and say, "Yes, I'm back to eating broccoli," because any more of a commentary than that straight statement of fact would be a lie.

You can't say, "I'm feeling better."
You can't say, "I missed this."
You can't say, "Broccoli is awesome."

Because while everybody else is apparently healthy because of broccoli, you're busy figuring out how to stay healthy in spite of it. Maybe someday you'll find the right balance, but right now you have a suspicion you'll have to balance out a year of eating broccoli with a year of abstaining. When you eat it you'll feel terrible but won't feel so guilty, and when you're abstaining you'll have to come up with constant excuses to avoid broccoli but you'll have energy and enjoy your food again.

All you can think is, If I could only ask all the people who wrote those dietary books... Because this can't be how they meant for this to be when they suggested everyone eat broccoli.

1 comment:

  1. This is the problem I have with evangelicals, either of diet or church, or any other variety: they have appointed themselves to wrangle as many group members as possible. They have a hard time with non-believers, which we all recognize, but an even harder time with believers who don't practice the way they want them to - which gets very little discussion, it seems.

    As someone with my dietary concerns and with my, uh, contentious relationship with my faith, I easily sympathize with your frustrations. Here, I would simply draw on my favorite saying from one of my heroes, Waylon Jennings:

    "There's always one more way to do things and that's your way, and you have a right to try it at least once."

    You've tried no broccoli, and that worked better for you than broccoli. If only those evangelicals would let you keep doing things your way...!