This post is a part of my Recycled Series.
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Lent is a season of fasting – including fasting from food. Fasting can be a fruitful spiritual discipline, but it also can be meaningless if you approach it like a diet.
These 40 days are supposed to be a preparation for Easter, not a slim-down strategy for swimsuit season. Fasting is not a divine diet plan where we whittle away the thick layer of adipose tissue that’s leftover from winter hibernation and sneaking snacks.
Fasting and not eating are two very different things. There was a time in my life when I was very good at not eating, and Lent provided the perfect cover-up for my obsession with the pursuit of thinness and wielding control over the number on the scale.
“I’m not on a diet,” I’d say when a friend asked me why I wasn’t eating. “I’m fasting for Lent.”
The pounds dropped, and I felt a high. I was a weight loss junkie – not a spiritual mystic practicing the holy art of self-sacrifice.
I originally decided to give up chocolate and other sweets as has always been my Lenten custom. Then we arrived at the beach with my parents, and the girls wanted ice cream and so did I, but I fell prey to my old thought pattern. “I have to be in a swimsuit here. I can’t eat that.”
So what did I do? I broke my Lenten promise and I ate a small scoop of ice cream. Instead of fasting on the “evil” food, I fasted on the unhealthy guilt associated with eating it. I fasted on the vanity of worrying what I might look like in a swimsuit if I ate three meals like a normal person.
This proved to be more of a self-sacrifice than denying myself of calories (which is more likely to send me on a power trip about how strong I am to eat less than most people).
I’m not suggesting that some people – even those who have had or have issues with food – cannot benefit from fasting during Lent. Hunger pangs can remind us that our physical hunger is not nearly as strong as our hunger for Christ, the Bread of Life.
But for me, fasting can easily become a way to camouflage my vanity and my hunger for control and a slimmer figure.
Now fasting from the Internet and blog comments [what I gave up several Lents ago] – that’s another story altogether. This has required much self-sacrifice. This has demanded vigilance and temperance and self-control, and I’ve found I was much better at depriving myself of food than staying away from the glowing rectangle except for small pockets of time each day. That’s probably a good sign that this kind of fast will bear more fruit than the food kind.
I’ve fallen. I’ve caved into temptation. I hadn’t seen a computer in three days. Three. Days. Then the sky turned grey and sheets of rain began to fall. What was I to do with all my time? So I cracked open my laptop (that was with us only because my husband needed it to study for his upcoming boards). I had a few emails that seemed very, very important at the time. I felt the need to answer them. Right. Now. But once I hit send, I wondered when I’d hear back. There was one email from someone who seemed upset with something I’d written. I shared it with my husband.
“Why do you care what that one person thinks? It doesn’t matter. Let it go.”
And with those words – let it go – I realized that this is what Lent is really about. It’s about letting go of unhealthy relics of a past eating disorder. It’s about letting go of the compulsion to communicate with strangers and to instead have a good chat with God or read my child an extra story. It’s letting go of my fear that everyone won’t like me. It’s about letting go of of what I want for my life and being open to what God wants for me. It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at once. And it may not be body-definiting, but with God’s grace, this letting go just may be soul-defining.