As some of you may know, I’m into weightlifting. This means I’m also into “nutrition”. I’m not a foodie, but every day I try to get a gram of protein per pound of (my) body weight, as well as lots of greens and about a gallon of water. Again, I’m certainly not a foodie, but I do “watch my macros”. One of my favorite sources of protein is chicken eggs.* At some point here I may invest in another tub of protein powder, simply because it’s so much more efficient than conventional forms of eating. (NB: Almost everyone can benefit from such protein supplements, not just athletes, especially as we age.) For now, though, it’s all about cans of tuna, eggs, peanut butter, milk, beans and rice, chicken breasts, fish fillets, and so on.
Now, because I often think in terms of “grams of X” when I’m eating, there is a temptation to be stingy. Sharing a portion of my meal means I lose some of my protein intake–it sounds perverse, but I’m just letting you know how my mind works for the point of this anecdote. Well, this morning I made a five-egger with salt, pepper, curry powder, and kale (yes, kale!). The kids were eating their own little meals but, sure enough, when I brought my “egg steak” over, they wanted to eat it, too. Having been a parent this long has curbed my innate selfishness by a good one or two percent so far, but, as a good son of fallen Adam, I’m still All About Me, on an instinctive level. Truth is, I do enjoy taking and sharing bites of eggs with the kids, but I won’t frown if they no longer want to eat.
Almost at the end of the meal, though, something interesting happened. There were two pieces left, one bigger than the other, and initially I went for the smaller piece with my fork to give my son his last bite. But then I paused. The bigger piece had more kale and more protein; the smaller piece was almost devoid of kale. But, I am the bigger organism. Surely I need a bigger portion. Surely his infant mouth would appreciate a smaller bite.
Forgive me for the triviality of this anecdote, but it signaled something very profound for me about divine providence. I overcame my selfish hesitation and fed my son the larger piece of eggs, and just as he bit down, I had a small epiphany: “What if the extra nutrients in that bite give him just that much more alertness and energy for the next few hours, and that little boost helps him accomplish some physical or cognitive act, which forges a whole new complex of neural sophistication, which in turn equips him to handle slowly but steadily more advanced tasks in life? What if this extra bite of kale in some mysterious way leads him to become a great athlete or a great engineer?”
Far fetched, perhaps. Yet consider the parallel case of how parents choose to name their children. The evidence suggests that it is not a particular name which grants success, or failure (cf. the final paragraph of this article), but rather the prevenient fact that the care that parents show in naming their children is a symptom–a metonym–of a greater commitment to parenting as a whole. Naming your child “Keith”, for example, signals that you care about how he fares in the larger matrix of social acceptability, while naming him “Beavis” (aside from very compelling personal reasons) signals that you’re not all that concerned with how he fits into the larger social order. Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, but, by and large, the prudence and thoughtfulness with which you name your children is a good indicator of how committed you are to raising a fully functional member of society.
The same goes for extracurricular activities, though of course excess in such things is its own kind of defect. It is not so much that such activities truly make a child successful, but rather that concern about developing one’s child in such ways is in and of itself a sign of committed parenting (cf. esp. 1:30 ff. in this video), and therefore, of openness to personal sacrifice.
Which brings me back to my arcane anecdote. Would eating the smaller, crummier piece of egg have condemned my son to mediocrity? No, but what the dilemma about those two pieces of egg made concrete was the ongoing guidance of the Holy Spirit in my vocation as a parent. “Elliot,” He was saying, almost audibly, I admit, “Giving your kids the better option, and you yourself the worse option, is the kind of choice you need to make on a daily basis.” In effect, I heard Christ reminding me, “Take up your meager bite and follow me.” He who is faithful in a little is faithful, and thus to be entrusted, with much.
The crux is not this or that bigger bite of food, but what consistently providing those “bigger bites” means for your children (or whoever is in your care, including the poor you meet). Yes, on one level, over time those little boosts will give my children the help they need to develop better, but on the most basic level what it gives them are regular sacramentals of my love for them, punctuated though it may be by shouts, groans, scoldings, sighs, laziness, and the rest of who I am. Somehow, God can use even an ogre like myself, I guess.
So, I encourage you today to be open to being small, to letting go, to taking a back seat, to taking up your cross and following Him who took up the Cross by which all pride is crucified and reborn as glorified humility.
In a word, behold the egg.
* BONUS: Here’s a new method for cooking eggs that I learned over the holidays.
Put an even coat of oil in a pan. (You can heat up the pan for a few seconds to ensure the oil runs evenly over the surface.) Put your eggs in the pan, add your spices, stir them up, and then bring the range to a small/medium flame. After a few minutes, the eggs should start peeling up a little from the sides of the pan, at which point you flip the whole thing. Adjust to taste and cooking style.