There’s lots of reasons why people give up certain things they enjoy: sometimes it’s to do with health, sometimes ethics, sometimes you just need to make budget cuts, or you get mocked by your friends for something they think is uncool, or… or you join some religion that says you mustn’t do that thing.
When I chose to stop eating bacon, my reasons were none of the above.
And when I say bacon, what I mean is any pig products – it’s just that bacon is, let’s face it, the yummiest of them all :)
My reason? it was to do with being Jewish, but not in the way that you’d expect. I’m not someone who follows the Jewish religion – never have been, really. I’m Jewish in the sense of ethnic origin, and cultural affiliation: I was born to Jewish parents and therefore I’m ethnically Jewish; I was brought up within Jewish culture, and therefore this is something I have an emotional connection to. The religious part of Jewish culture? That’s something I’m familiar with – my childhood home life came with stuff like keeping kosher, lighting sabbath candles, celebrating Passover, fasting on Yom Kippur – but I didn’t see it as meaningful and as soon as I was old enough, I rebelled.
So when I came to England, aged 27, I very happily tucked into the cooked English breakfast and never looked back…
Until age 41, when I was preparing to get married and to set up home with my husband and I found myself thinking that in some way I need my home to be a Jewish home.
Some things that had happened in the meantime which you need to know so you can understand this story: I had, in the meantime, met Jesus and become one of his followers; I had met other Jews who believe in him, and had come to understand that it’s not either/or – believing in Jesus doesn’t mean you stop being Jewish, you just become what some of us call a completed Jew, a Jew who is following the Jewish Messiah! I had gone back home to Israel and lived there for just under a year and worshipped as part of a local Messianic fellowship. And I’d then come back to England to marry the English guy I’d met just before going back to Israel. Confused? Sorry, that’s kind of how my life goes. Never a dull moment :)
So, anyways, here I was, preparing to marry my gentile English guy, and thinking about my Jewish identity – which had actually come to mean a lot more to me since becoming a follower of the Jewish Messiah – and, unaware of how I was (to a certain extent) imitating my mum, I chose those things that were familiar to me from my childhood home: I chose (to a certain extent) to keep kosher, and I chose (in some sense) to keep Shabbat and the Jewish festivals. I talked it through with my then fiancé and we agreed: our home would be free of pork or shellfish, though obviously when eating out my husband, being a gentile, would be free to enjoy the odd gammon steak or whatever he fancied. And the issue of Shabbat and festivals would be up to me – he would happily enjoy a festive meal with me as and when, and say amen when I lit the candles and prayed.
For him it hasn’t been a big deal.
For me, on the other hand, it’s been exhausting.
Not the living without bacon – no, I wasn’t lying in bed at night and dreaming about the exquisite flavour, or imagining the wonderful aroma… No, what was tiring was having to keep watching what I can eat in social gatherings, trying to guess what’s in that sandwich or that salad or that casserole, or standing in front of the sandwiches in a shop and looking for the one or two that don’t contain ham or bacon.
I realise as I’m writing this that for vegetarians this is their normal, and vegans even more so. But this takes me back to what I started with: reasons why we give things up. The reasons affect your level of motivation – if you are strongly convinced, for example, that eating animals is morally wrong, then you’ll have a strong motivation to get you through the hardship. Or if you have a serious health condition that requires you to, say, give up sugary things – again, you know what it would cost you if you succumbed to temptation, so you have the motivation to resist.
If I was a religious Jew – if I believed that God forbids me – then I would have the motivation to refrain from eating bacon for the rest of my life. I love God with all my heart and my desire is to live a life that would honour and please him.
But God promised us Jews that the time would come when he would make a new covenant with us (Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:39-41; Ezekiel 36:26-27) – a better one than the original covenant made at Mount Sinai, which we broke. It would be better because this would be one we couldn’t break, because God himself would make it happen: he would give us new hearts, changing our will from the inside so that we would love him and obey him and this obedience would come naturally, without needing to learn and memorise a whole load of written rules and regulations.
Jesus, the promised Messiah, came to institute that promised new covenant. Through faith in him, I’m free of the old set of rules and regulations. I’m therefore free to either eat bacon or refrain from eating bacon – whichever I choose.
I’d been thinking about this, on and off, for a long while. I was getting tired – not of living without bacon, which is something I did until age 27 without a problem because I lived in Israel, where bacon wasn’t a thing. No, I was getting tired of living in England and trying to avoid eating pig products, because English culture is full of ham and bacon, pork sausages and sausage rolls – and swimming against the tide is exhausting. Now, I say this as someone who is used to swimming against the tide, I’m used to speaking counter-culturally and blogging stuff that most of my friends see as near-sacrilege – but I do that out of strong conviction, so I have enough motivation to carry me through. When it came to eating pig, however, I didn’t have the conviction – on the contrary, I knew, even when I made that choice 15 years ago, that I am free to eat pig and there’s nothing wrong with it.
That’s why it’s been so tiring. That’s why I was thinking about it, on and off, for a while. And this is why last week, when out at a countryside café and feeling tired and ravenous, I chose to eat a slice of mouth-watering quiche, full of delicious bacon – and because I know I’m free to, I could enjoy it wholeheartedly and give thanks to God for his fatherly provision.
As Paul says in I Corinthians 10:31, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”