Have you ever tried picturing a church activity without a plate of cookies at the end? I know, the thought almost seems wrong, doesn’t it? It’s like the treats are non-negotiable, like the closing song and prayer would be incomplete without it. After all, isn’t the whole point of having a closing prayer to bless the refreshments?
All kidding aside, we Mormons really do seem to have a huge love affair with sugar. I can’t count how many times I’ve finished off a church meeting with doughnuts and chocolate milk. Or mini cheesecakes. Or ice cream sandwiches. Or some kind of sugary something-or-other. I even heard about one Relief Society that dedicated an entire activity to the love of chocolate.
And yet, if we’re being totally honest, we have to admit that this isn’t just a church thing. How many of us could launch into a description of our favorite candy bar or the best DQ milkshake flavor or the ice cream we love so much we’ve made a midnight run to satisfy our craving? Or what about pies on Thanksgiving or fudge at Christmas or the triple decker chocolate cake that we absolutely have to have every year on our birthday? It seems, for many of us, sugar really has become our go-to comfort food.
That certainly was true for me. Chocolate wasn’t just a treat—it was my friend and my security blanket and my reward at the end of a long, hard day. It was my comfort when I was depressed and my party when I felt like celebrating. To me, it didn’t just feel like food for my body, but nourishment for the deep hungering of my soul.
To put it bluntly, I was a full-blown sugar addict for more than 20 years. Of course, I never called it an addiction, but my behavior continually proved otherwise. What else do you call someone who hides the bag of Reese’s so her husband won’t see how many she’s eaten? Or who starts every Monday promising herself she’s going to cut down but never lasts more than a few hours? Or who has to have chocolate in the house at all times, and if she runs out, grabs her car keys and makes a quick trip to the store so her fix will be ready the moment she needs it? Yes, I’ve learned that it really is possible to be addicted to sugar. I know because I’ve experienced it. Over and over I tried to say no, but I just couldn’t stop myself from eating it.
I know some may be thinking, “C’mon Jaci, you’re making way too big of a deal out of this. So what if some of us occasionally overdose on chocolate chip cookie dough? It’s not like we’re doing heroin or viewing pornography. What’s so wrong with having this one guilty little pleasure?”
I get it. Really I do. I made the same argument myself countless times, and I believed every single word of it . . . until the Lord finally began to teach me otherwise. If you’ll humor me for just a minute, I’d like to show you a few reasons why overdosing on sugar may not be as harmless or innocent as we tend to think.
First of course are the physical side effects of a high-sugar diet. I thought all those sweets were just adding a few pounds to my waistline and a few cavities to my teeth. Never did I imagine that the sugar could actually be causing my depression. Or my awful mood swings. Or my restlessness or my fatigue or my short temper with my kids. I’d struggled with all those things for years, but I’d always blamed them on my stressful life or my wonky hormones. I felt pretty sheepish when I learned that I was actually causing a huge array of physical and emotional problems simply by what I was eating.
But what shocked me even more were the spiritual drawbacks of my sugar addiction. I honestly hadn’t thought my sweet tooth was affecting me spiritually at all, but I discovered that the Lord had a lot to say about my choice to use chocolate as my favorite comfort food.
For starters, take 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
Notice how we’re told in these verses that He is the God of all comfort. I know the idea isn’t new, especially since the word “Comforter” is found in the scriptures over 140 times. But even though we may understand this doctrine intellectually, how often do we brush it aside and reach for sugar instead to comfort us when we’re struggling emotionally?
For example, how many of us inhale a pint of ice cream when we’re feeling stressed? Or raid our private candy stash when we’ve had a bad day? To the world, it seems like a perfectly acceptable coping mechanism shared by countless other die-hard chocoholics. Like I said earlier, we even call it comfort food.
But is that type of coping mechanism really acceptable to the Lord? Is that really how He looks at it? Or would He simply say that we’re turning to sugar for comfort rather than taking the time to turn to Him?
It reminds me of Isaiah’s well-known plea: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”
What kind of “fatness” do we reach for when our soul is hungering and thirsting? When we’re upset or lonely or depressed, do we binge on half a pan of brownies? Or have we learned for ourselves that the Lord can “[satisfy] the longing soul, and [fill] the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 107:9)? Do we reach for a bag of peanut butter M&M’s? Or are we drinking in the “living water” that can quench our thirst like no mug of diet Pepsi ever can (John 4:10)?
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that sugar is evil, and I’m not saying that ingesting it is a sin. I’m just saying that our beloved comfort food may be causing more trouble physically and spiritually than we may realize. In fact, if we’re not careful, sugar can even become a false god in our lives. I know that may seem harsh, but when we reach for a candy bar whenever we’re stressed, aren’t we making that treat our Deliverer and Comforter and Savior rather than reaching for the One who really can meet our every need?
I’m guessing you’ve heard this C.S. Lewis quote before, but if you don’t mind (and I hope he doesn’t either), I’m going to substitute a few words to make my point:
“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with [doughnuts and Reese’s and chocolate chip cookie dough] when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased (The Weight of Glory, 26).”
Maybe having refreshments at the end of our meetings will always be part of our church culture. And I really am okay with that. But maybe—just maybe—it’s time for some of us to learn how to “comfort [our] soul in Christ” rather than drowning our sorrows in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s (Alma 31:31). Maybe it’s time to figure out what Isaiah was talking about and “let [our] soul delight in fatness”—a rich and delectable kind of comfort food that goes far beyond what any DQ blizzard could ever offer.