Cooked Celery, Dinner Torture, and Spiritual Tantrums

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I sat there cringing and gagging back vomit. “I’m going to throw up! It’s making me throw up!” My mother didn’t respond. She sat across the table, silently watching, as she tortured me with chicken casserole. It was the cooked celery. Something about cooked celery triggered a gag reflex in me that I couldn’t get past. And the celery was chopped small and hidden in every mouthful. I couldn’t eat any more of the chicken casserole for fear of biting into a torturous tidbit of celery, which would surely result in the regurgitation of all the casserole I had already managed to gag down. I hated every moment of it going down, I would do everything in my power to prevent that cooked celery from haunting my taste buds by coming back up again, and that meant the refusal to accept her demands to “eat three more bites.” I cried, I reasoned, I raged, but she just sat there silently watching me and waiting for me to obey.

My brother, Tommy, sat next to me. He was in the same torturous situation, only worse – he had five bites left. I naively thought that Tommy’s presence would distract from mine. I thought that I could pretend to eat some casserole while she was watching him. So while her eyes drifted to Tommy’s place at the table, I scooped up imaginary casserole onto my fork and with a dramatic whimper to sell my lie, I shoved the fork into my mouth and began to fake chew. I’m not sure how she knew I was faking, maybe I puffed my cheeks out too much or I didn’t gag enough as the imaginary casserole went down, but she knew right away. My attempt had only managed to land me with an additional bite of casserole. If I lied again I would get two more bites, six total bites. My next move was the silent stare down. I would sit at the table and silently stare off into space until my mom broke down and removed my sentence. And after 30 minutes, my mom told me to go get ready for bed. I had won!

The next morning I ran downstairs to breakfast; I was starving. But when I reached my spot at the table, it wasn’t a bowl of Cheerios that welcomed me, but my four bites of casserole leftover from the night before. The unfairness of the situation consumed me and I crumpled to the floor in tears. I eventually did eat all four bites of casserole and I never let my food torture carry over into breakfast ever again. But I learned a lesson far more valuable than the importance of eating a healthy, balanced meal: Tantrums do not get you what you want.

It’s amazing that over twenty years later I am relearning this lesson. I am throwing a spiritual tantrum. My situation is different: It is not a matter of food, but it is still a matter of need vs. want. The authority figure is no longer my mom, but God.

I know my situation will satisfy my hunger, help me grow strong, and build the endurance necessary to successfully endure a similar situation later in life. But I just can’t get past the fact that my plate holds something on it that I don’t like. The chicken casserole wasn’t all bad, in fact, if my mom made it exactly the same but without the celery, I would have loved it. But the celery was there, chopped small to ensure that I couldn’t eat around it. I had to eat the gross as well as the good. That’s where I am now. I love that I can be a full-time housewife, I love my husband and all his support, I love my house, I love that I have time to work on my recovery, and I love that my schedule is flexible so I can meet with people one on one during the day. But this lifestyle is accompanied with some less than desireable traits as well. I’m not a mother yet, I am still crippled with anxiety, and I have lost all sense of my identity.

I would love to omit the parts of my life that I don’t like, but just as the celery is necessary for a balanced dish, these undesirable traits are necessary for a balanced life. It is during my anxiety attacks that I understand how much my husband loves me. It was my emotional breakdown and the need for a simplier lifestyle that gave me the courage to follow God’s call for me to be a housewife. It was the resignation from my job at church that gave me the flexible hours to meet with others one on one. But here is where I get stuck. Even though I know the benefits of accepting the life I was given, I can’t get past the fact that I don’t like it all. I can’t get past that yucky taste.

I do see progress though. Instead of trying to dodge my problem areas with denial, I am trying to learn acceptance. Unfortunately, my acceptance looks a lot like this girl trying to finish her green beans. 

I am trying, but I am letting God know how much I dislike it. But just like the mom in the video pouring out joyful encouragement, God is doing the same for me. My cries and anger don’t change His mind, but my willingness to try delights Him. I’m going to keep pushing on with the hopes that just as I learned to stomach cooked celery, I will learn to accept the things I cannot change and trust that God knows what will make me stronger.

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