Stress Relief (the old-fashioned way)

A few years ago, I was invited over to my (now) in-laws’ house, and I remember having an ‘ah-ha’ moment in their kitchen while we were prepping dinner. My assigned task was slicing bell peppers, and I suddenly realized that it had been a very, very long time since I’d diced a vegetable.

Bear with me…

Life was extremely busy. Most of my meals consisted of pre-prepped food like baby carrots, frozen chopped broccoli, spice mixes, instant oatmeal, ezekiel toast, canned chicken…etc, etc. There’s nothing wrong with eating those foods, and in doing so I was both satisfied and well-nourished. But I missed out on the emotional and spiritual benefit of the manual labor that cooking requires. There’s something therapeutic about chopping your own vegetables into tiny, uniform pieces.

[Bell peppers, onions, and garlic for Thai Red Curry Lentils]

Most of the time, the conveniences of our modern food system are of huge benefit. From increasing accessibility of fresh food, to promoting food safety, to preventing food waste, most food technology serves to advance our collective well-being. I won’t lie, when I’m rushed to meal-prep for the week, there’s nothing I appreciate more than bags of frozen green beans.

But I think I’d be better off if, instead of hurrying to the grocery store and haphazardly dumping bags of mixed vegetables into a pan, I diced my own produce. Or rather, I would be a much healthier and more balanced person if I had enough margin in my life to do that.

Instead of putting in extra hours of work, scrolling mindlessly on social media, rushing off to one more meeting, or trying to do, do, do, if I slowed down, cut back, and gave myself space–I’d be much better off. So often, I see value in the numerical return: logging more hours, paying off my bills, saving time with x, y, z, short cut. But “wasting time” with a leisurely walk, hand writing a “thank you” note, and chopping my own vegetables would probably add more days to my life than the ones I think I’m saving myself by rushing around all the time.

This morning, I chatted with my husband while he was kneading some bread dough. “I realize this will be easier once I let it rise a little,” he said, “but honestly, I like doing this. It feels good.” I laughed, and joked that the bread dough was like an old-fashioned stress ball. I realized afterwards that it wasn’t a joke at all…it was truth.

Living on quarantine has taught me a lot. While I don’t want to continue to stay at home and will be very grateful when all this ends, I’ve also benefited in many, many ways. I’ve enjoyed extra time with my husband. I’ve cleaned the dust out those often neglected corners, both in my home and in my heart and mind. I’ve spent more time in prayer than I had in months, I’ve had some hard and necessary conversations, I’ve edited both my book’s manuscript and the manuscript that is my life.

And I’ve baked bread, and chopped vegetables.

And all of that has been to my benefit. I want to keep chopping my own vegetables, and kneading my own bread dough (or watching my husband knead bread dough), and finding purpose and meaning in the things that seem like distractions. Because when looking back on my life, I think that many of the things I’d counted as of utmost importance were actually the ultimate of distractions–counting calories, running, pursuing weight loss, obsessing over my grades, my appearance, or what others thought of me.

But baking bread–and breaking it, with others? Now that’s meaningful.

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