Monday, August 6, 2012


Do you ever get a hankerin’ for something, but you’re not quite sure what it is? Every once in a while, this happens to me. It’s usually associated with stress. I’m a stress eater. And sometimes I get this notion that if I can just find what it is I’m hankerin’ for, I’m going to feel a whole lot better -- better about my situation, my life, myself.

So, I climb into my car and head for the supermarket. Then I get down to business. I walk up and down the aisles. In the produce I stop and imagine myself eating some fat, juicy grapes. Is that what I’m hankerin’ for? Nope. I go to the chips and think about how satisfying it would be to crunch away on something salty. But will that do it for me? Nope. I make my way to my favorite section of the grocery store, the cookie aisle. And I stop by the Nutter Butters. Is this what I’m hankerin’ for? Nope. Next comes the freezer section. Frozen Yogurt. Is that it? Nope. I make my way through the entire store, hoping that something will jump out and grab me because I have no idea what I’m looking for. Just something to ease this hankerin’ I’m feeling inside.

There are times when I go through this whole routine and leave the store empty-handed. Nothing seems to do it for me. But most often, I do walk away with something, usually something that isn’t at all good for me. Then as soon as I get into the car I tear it open and start in.

Do you ever do that? Do you ever feel yourself hankerin’ for something and you don’t know what it is? It might not be food. It might be that you’re hankerin’ for a drink. Or you’re hankerin’ to buy something new. Or you’re hankerin’ for an adventure. Or you’re hankerin’ for a special person in your life. Or you’re hankerin’ for something to entertain you.

Whatever it is, hankerin’ can be pretty stressful in itself. Especially when you aren’t quite sure what you’re hankerin’ for. It leaves everything in your life feeling out of whack. Something’s just not right. Nothing quite fits. You have this dis-ease that keeps gnawing at you and you don’t know what to do about it.

We humans must have a natural tendency to hanker. The children of Israel were terrible hankerers. In the Exodus story, they have what presents itself as a food crisis. But, in reality, it’s a faith crisis. God has just delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians, but all they can think about is the food they used to have back in the days when they lived in Egypt. Never mind the fact that they were slaves, and miserable. They seemed to forget about all that. So, instead of being thankful for the amazing blessings within their grasp, they hanker for what they can’t have. God hears their hankerin’ and gives them manna for bread and quail for meat. It may not be exactly what they want, but it’s exactly what they need.

This story from Exodus seems to foreshadow a story that we read in John’s gospel. Jesus has just fed a hungry crowd of 5000+ people. And now, they’re chasing him down. It wasn’t enough for them. They’re hankerin’ for something more. Jesus knows that. And he realizes that they don’t even know what it is they’re hankerin’ for.

“You’re looking for me because I fed you,” he says. “But there’s so much more I can give you. That bread and fish that I fed you will only satisfy you for so long, and then you’re going to be hungry again. You’re going to spend the rest of your life hankerin’ for something you don’t have until you seek the true bread from heaven.”

Well, that sounds pretty good to them. “Okay, we’ll take it. Give it to us, please.”

“Here’s the thing,” Jesus tells them. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. “

Jesus warns his followers, then and now, that we’d best be mindful about what we’re hankerin’ for. Because pert near everything in this world that we convince ourselves we can’t live without has little to do with really living. Not the living that God calls us to be a part of.

The kinds of things we spend our lives pursuing are usually things that have a shelf life. The only thing that doesn’t have a shelf life, Jesus reminds us, is the relationship we have with God. And until we live into that reality, we’re going to continue wandering aimlessly up and down the aisles at the supermarket looking for just the thing that will satisfy our longing. And we fail to notice is that everything we think might satisfy us is stamped with an expiration date.

St. Augustine once said that our hearts will always be restless until they find their rest in God. Life doesn’t have to be an endless quest to find the one thing that will satisfy our hankerin’. God is there all along, waiting to give us all that we need: to be complete, to be at peace, to be content.

When I get a hankerin’ and go to Harris Teeter, hoping to find just the right thing to satisfy me, I usually end up with junk food that I stuff into my face. And in no time at all, I’m feeling worse than I did before, both physically and emotionally. And now I’m hankerin’ again. Because junk food isn’t what I needed.

It makes me wonder about all the other kinds of junk food we consume in an effort to satisfy our longing. Our junk food may be drugs, alcohol, sex, work, fast cars, running, our children, a reckless pursuit of adrenaline rushes, a relentless quest for perfection or control or the approval of others. There are so many things we can convince ourselves we need to satisfy our hankerin’.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? Why do we have such a tendency to hanker for junk food when we could be savoring the bread of life?

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