Chaperoning your child’s school trip feels like a rite of passage, an experience every parent should volunteer for at least once. It grounds you, gives perspective, and, in my case, makes you very thankful for those who chose to be fourth grade teachers. Last month, I jumped in to chaperone my son’s trip to Mount Mercy University. He had been looking forward to and talking about this “amazing” trip since becoming a fourth grader, not because of the opportunity to see what a college campus is like, but for the food. Yep, it’s all about the cafeteria food.

Let me paint the picture for you. Approximately 40-50 fourth graders fill into the college cafeteria and are given a short description as to what they will find there. Each of the stations were explained: the salad bar, hot food selections, made-to-order offerings, cereal, waffles, desserts AND an ice machine with all kinds of fixin’s. (My mouth waters just thinking about it.) Imagine it: the kiddos’ eyes growing wider with each food option, mouths open in awe and preparation.

Then they’re off! The staff just let them go and the noise, the chaos, the reckless abandon of their hearts as they rush from station to station was a sight to see. I stood there, by the salad bar, taking it all in, and these words hit me: “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.”  It’s a mantra I’ve relied on often in my walk with the Lord.

 “’I have the right to do anything,’” you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.” 1 Corinthians 10:23

As my eyes scanned the cafeteria, all I saw was a sea of little people completely over stimulated and ready to indulge in the unlimited choices and freedom that was placed before them. It was a picture that brought clarity to so much of my sinful nature. The desire to freely choose whatever makes me feel happy and satisfied, not thinking ahead to the consequences. Every day we are free to make choices but we never really think through, “Is this beneficial?” Here are just a few examples:

  • The unhealthy choice to grab whatever is convenient out of the breakroom, later to suffer from lethargy tiredness.
  • The toxic relationship that feeds the body pleasure for a moment, only to leave the heart in shattered pieces days later.
  • One drink that turns into many. Experiencing moments of freedom, only to leave you chained to addiction or even a jail cell down the road.

The list could go on. But on this day, I watched the purpose of this scripture play out before me with simplicity and innocence. I watched these little people running throughout the cafeteria in a frenzy, filling their plates to the brim with the most unhealthy and unusual combinations. It made my stomach turn. At one point I looked over to one little girl who had just ran back to the table to show all her friends the waffle she’d just prepared, complete with mounds whipped cream and cereal on top! Once the moment of excitement and pleasure had passed what was left? I can only assume that the number of fourth graders the nurse saw that afternoon was higher than normal. I’m sure the kids had trouble concentrating and staying awake, let alone giving their best.

I decided to use this as a teaching moment with my son. I didn’t say anything to him while on the trip but that evening I asked, “So, was the cafeteria all you hoped it’d be?” He replied with, “No, it sounded much cooler than it really was.”

My son, remember this revelation, for it will be the case in so many areas of life. You will be told of great and wonderful things, only to find out there is risk involved. You will want to follow the crowd only to find out, it really wasn’t as cool as it was made out to be. You will find that although everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial. With the Holy Spirit and Word of God as our guide, we have the ability to choose wisely.

Lord, I pray for the ability to discern wisely and not abuse the freedom given to us. Help us to lean on you for decisions, big and small. For you are good and the boundaries you’ve created are to help us live our best life. The one you created us for. Thank you for your grace when I do not choose wisely and for the chance to learn and grow from it. Amen.