Dealing with spiritually hangry people & why the only cure for emotional starvation is a secure relationship with God.
And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 (NKJV)
I’ve been getting back into bread-making thanks to a friend who is a sourdough master. I haven’t quite graduated to real sourdough yet, still using packet yeast for my loaves and bagels, but there’s something very therapeutic about kneading the dough and it has given me time to meditate on the various parables on bread Jesus told. One of the most famous is the one above from the book of John and the whole chapter is very interesting for giving context to this famous line.
Prior to this sermon, Jesus had been followed around the sea of Galilee by a crowd of thousands of people and the day before He had fed them from a handful of loaves and fishes in the miracle of feeding the five-thousand. As usual, Jesus was not a crowd-pleaser and withdrew from the crowds for alone time in prayer, ducking a bunch of people who tried to snatch Him and appoint Him king of Judea. Jesus and His close disciples landed at a different part of the shore by boat where the hoard of people had rushed over to meet them and possibly get more bread or see more signs and wonders.
Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” – John 6:30-31 (NKJV)
The people wanted a performing seal who gave them free food, but the message Jesus was bringing was not the one they wanted to hear.
Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” – John 6:43-51 (NKJV)
What does Jesus mean by these words? As the chapter progresses, it would be possible to think that He’s talking about cannibalism or some kind of pagan ritual, but the symbolism is a metaphor, one which the crowd doesn’t really understand.
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”
When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”
But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” – John 6:60-69 (NKJV)
What Jesus is talking about is spirit, not flesh. How do you feed your spirit? You must feed it with the source of all life and spiritual food, which is the Living God. Can you get by without the bread of life? Are there alternatives? The answer to that is both no and yes. The alternative sources of spiritual sustenance are to either close yourself off from everyone and run on whatever you have inside of yourself, or to become a spiritual cannibal who extracts sustenance from other people through manipulation.
Another Christian YouTube life-coach, Cassandra Mack, once said that when someone is emotionally starved, getting crumbs can feel like receiving the whole pie. There are people out there who deliberately keep you hungry in order to make you compliant. This is how scientific researchers manipulate animals for behavioural studies, by keeping them underweight so they’re motivated to do things they wouldn’t naturally do in order to get food. This is the principal of breadcrumbing.
Manipulators start out with love-bombing in order to get you reliant on their bread as your only source of emotional nourishment, then they begin to withhold food. They’re not trying to sustain you, they’re trying to sustain themselves, so they cannot afford to give away emotional energy for very long without being able to cannibalise you with stress tactics.
If you grew up in an environment of emotional and spiritual undernourishment, or if you have been the victim of emotional/spiritual cannibalism, after a while you will struggle to know what it feels like to be filled and satisfied. Breadcrumbs will trigger the response of a starving individual, which is gratifying for a toxic manipulator, and really disturbing for a healthy person, which is why you end up surrounded by cannibals feasting on your emotional flesh instead of reciprocal relationships.
How do you break the cycle? How do you purge your environment of parasitic relationships?
Quite frankly, you need Jesus.
When Jesus said that He is the bread of life, He wasn’t kidding. He was giving you the information you need in order to find an inexhaustible source of spiritual and emotional food through a relationship with God. I like this quote by Dr. T. Niles: “Christianity is just one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” It encapsulates the concept that spiritual sustainment is not found through other people, it can only be found through God, which is why pastors are not supposed to be cult leaders. This was Jesus’ command to the very first pastor of His church:
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” – John 21:15-17 (NKJV)
When we break bread together at church, it is a symbolic act of worship for the providence of God, which can be material in some cases, but is mostly spiritual and relational in nature. Just as the vine supplies the branches with water and nutrients from the soil, our constant connection to the Father through the Son and the Holy Spirit means that we can depend on God alone when other relationships fall short. It means that we are no longer begging for scraps from other people and reliant on crumbs.
You cannot rescue someone who is spiritually starving. Attempting to give them what they need from your own resources is never going to work in the long-term. At best it will be a temporary crutch and at worst you might end up teaching them to cannibalise people because they’re dependent on human sources of love and connection. Instead, you need to be pointing them towards Jesus as the true bread of life.
If someone is attempting to turn you into their source, instead of going to God, that’s a major red flag. It might mean that they aren’t genuinely seeking God and are attempting to devour the flock as ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing. If a church is attempting to make you dependent on a pastor for spiritual meaning and sustenance, that’s also a red flag.
The primary source of spiritual bread is Jesus and we connect to Him through prayer and scripture. The church is important in this process because we know that where two or more Spirit-filled Christians are gathered in the name of Jesus, He will be there among us and we will be part of His body (Matthew 18:20).
Someone who has their own relationship with Jesus is in possession of spiritual bread and does not need to obtain it from you. They won’t be attempting to create a co-dependent relationship with you and instead can form a stable and supportive relationship of acceptance without entanglement or blurring of your boundaries. They’re at peace within themselves through their relationship with God so you won’t be constantly stressed out by having to walk on eggshells around volatile emotions or unstable people.
…he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. – James 1:8 (NKJV)
Discerning who to be in fellowship with is a case of looking for the signs of internal peace and stability:
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. – 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
They’re capable of self-control and mastery of their emotional state. They’re not easily swayed by other people’s emotional state or charisma and are capable of rational and critical thinking for themselves. They respond to situations instead of reacting, and you can also cultivate this sense of peace and internal strength through understanding who your rock of stability is:
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 (NKJV)
How do Christians overcome the world? Essentially we don’t, but we strive to overcome our own susceptibility to influence and our own tendencies to make bad choices out of a place of need or fear. We operate with the Spirit of God who sustains us in times of tribulation. A person’s circumstances should not determine how much peace and joy they experience through Jesus.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17 (NKJV)
The secret manna gives us a clear mind, emotional fulfillment, and the ability to stand in the face of overwhelming rejection and hatred from the world. Other people can threaten to withhold love from you as much as they like. It isn’t going to force you to crumble because you have a constant supply of bread from God. While the rest of humanity might be hangry, we are not. Anyone who wants to stop being hangry can come to Jesus for themselves and find the inner peace they have been searching for all their lives.
*Unless otherwise noted, scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.