Why fasting on food all throughout Lent isn’t the best path to holiness for me

This post is a part of my Recycled Series.

Attention Editors: These columns have been previously published, but are available for reprint. Please contact me at kmwicker[at]gmail[dot]com for reprint fees and further information.

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.

When you don’t have to choose your Lenten sacrifice

I know everyone, or at least a lot of my most loyal remnant who have managed to stick around to read my sporadic ramblings here on this sorely-neglected blog, are probably sick of my whining about my running injury, but I need some catharsis today. Feel free to click away from here if you’re over me and my hamstring, but there is a bigger point to all this brooding.

So a few weeks ago I was finally given the green light to ease back into running. I was told to use pain as my guide, to go slowly, to not run on consecutive days, to stick to flat routes, and to be patient with myself. I followed most of this advice fairly well. Perhaps I grew a little enthusiastic during a couple of runs and ran at a faster clip than was prudent, but it wasn’t like I was sprinting or anything. What’s more is I had absolutely no pain while running. I assumed this was a very good sign.

Well, you know what they say about the word “assume” – it makes an #@! out of you (“u”) and me.

One Monday morning I woke up after taking a complete day off of any exercise on Sunday (I always incorporate one day of full rest into my week now), and my left hamstring/thigh/bum area, or what one runner who suffered a similar injury aptly referred to as her “thutt,” was aching a bit. I thought it was a little strange, especially since I had been a lazy bum the day before, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Maybe I was just stiff from inactivity? I continued to religiously perform my rehab exercises and to not push myself too long or too hard. I’d told my running pals I hoped to be back running with them in the mornings in March.

Yet, here we are in the first week of March, and I’m faced with the grim reality that I won’t be returning to my morning runs yet. My “thutt” is nagging at me and telling me it’s not ready for running, or maybe it was the spinning class I took. I don’t know. That’s what is so weird about this injury. I can’t figure out a correlation between what I do (or don’t do) and the pain. I mean, running a half marathon hurt it, but that’s to be expected, especially since my hamstring was actually fraying at that point. Now that I’m on the mend, I can’t tell what’s aggravating it because it doesn’t usually hurt when I’m active. It’s later when I notice the pangs. It once again hurts to just sit, so I have to bring ice to the carpool lane. Yesterday I had to sprint after a defiant toddler, and I felt a sharp twinge in the area.

I am sad, angry, and frustrated, but I’m not entirely surprised. When I first received my icky MRI results, I voraciously (obsessively) read everything I could about high hamstring tendinopathy. My husband also consulted an orthopedic surgeon friend of his, and I’ll never forget what he said. “This is a frustrating and very difficult injury to overcome. I worked with one athlete who went to physical therapy five days a week. He healed after three months but then immediately re-injured the hamstring upon returning to his sport.” Fabulous. Like I have time for daily physical therapy sessions. I’m not an Olympic athlete. I just want to run for fitness and compete in a few races a year. Is that too much to ask?

I read myriad forum posts with titles like “hopeless hamstring tendinopathy” and “high hamstring tendinopathy – does it ever heal?” These created further warm and fuzzy feelings in me. Not. I read about a woman who had been fighting the injury for six years, and I selfishly prayed I would be spared the same kind of perpetual anguish. To be fair, I also discovered some hopeful stories. There were runners who had overcome the injury, but all of their paths to healing were different. Some actually ran through the injury just at a slower pace. Others quit running completely for months. Some received all sorts of injections and massages. Some simply focused on eccentric exercises. But they got better.

When I had my follow-up MRI, I was thrilled because my body had healed tremendously. The partial tear looked great and so did all of the other injuries my first MRI had revealed. I had some minor residual tendinopathy, but nothing major. Woo-hoo! I was so confident I’d be back to running at my former level in no time. I even looked up upcoming races and decided training for a 10K in May would be perfect. Pride can be blinding. So, yes, I am understandably confused how the “minor” findings could lead me to feel like this. One running step forward and two big, hobbling steps back.

Ah, but it’s just running. I recall reading someone “tsk, tsking” an injured runner on a forum reminding her that she didn’t have cancer. True. We need to focus on our blessings and follow Hungry Runner Girl’s wise advice and to stay positive and hopeful. She also writes about how one of the most difficult things about being injured is feeling like you’re not in control. This totally resonates with me.

She writes,

I think one of the hardest parts about being injured is the lack of control that comes along with an injury. One thing that I love about running is that I can control it (especially when there are so many things in my life that I have no control over). When I run I can control my speed, distance, effort level etc. etc. etc. I go into a workout knowing what I am going to do and then I do it. No questions asked.

I think injuries are frustrating because you really just have to let go of any and all control and just let your body do its thing on its own time. You may think you are healed and that you are ready to run and then wake up the next day hurting again (not that this is happening to me right now but it has many times with past injuries). You have no control over how long it is until you are back in the game, what races you are going to miss out on or how long it will take to build your endurance back up.

What I am trying to learn during this time —> to let go of the things that are out of my control and just go with the flow.

I need to just not worry about it because: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

I love that: If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

It’s not the end. My “thutt” doesn’t have final say. So take that.

I know I have control issues. A desire to be in control has led me to deny myself of food (I can’t control my circumstances, but I can control what I eat or don’t eat and the number on the scale), to get all OCD about my mothering, to fear a new, unexpected pregnancy and then to get angry when that pregnancy ended in miscarriage, to sweat the small stuff, and to let life’s little but constant messes and curve balls cause me to just about unravel.

I also know that because of these very control issues of mine I have been given some pretty uncontrollable circumstances: Pregnancy bedrest after premature labor during one pregnancy and premature dilation in three out of four pregnancies. Miscarriages. A mom with a debilitating sickness that can’t really be cured. Addiction in my family while growing up. Feisty, spicy children who posses unrelenting tenacity. A husband whom I adore and love but who hasn’t converted to my faith like I thought he would and like he once thought he would. And now a recalcitrant running injury that is keeping me off the road and demanding that I rest, wait, be patient, be hopeful, trust the medical establishment, and relinquish control.

People sometimes ask me about natural labor and why I actually chose to do it four times. Because I am a martyr at heart and fall for any excuse for self-flagellation, and hair shirts aren’t really in style anymore. I jest. Seriously, there are many reasons, but one major impetus for me was that I wanted to be in control. I was more afraid of not being in control than of feeling the pain. I didn’t want an epidural to numb me or pitocin to speed things up. I wanted to know when to push. I wanted to feel everything, not because I am fiercely tough, impervious to pain, or a glutton for punishment, but simply because I was afraid that giving up some of the pain meant I’d have to give up some of the control, too. (I also happen to be in love with endorphins, which makes the not running thing even more difficult.) I refused to have IVs, to be tied down to a hospital bed. I wanted to be in charge. But despite having beautiful births with little medical intervention, I was never in charge. I did my part, sure. I listened to my body, accepted the pain, and worked hard, but the babies came on their own terms. Life is like those precious babies: Full of surprises, something we try to control, plan, and apply our own timetable to. But that’s not the way labor – or life – works.

So here I am on the verge of another Lenten season with my sore “thutt.” I am making my Lenten resolutions with the girls, and I plan to do more than just give up things this year. After all, I am having to continue to give up running – and control – whether I want to or not. Yes, it’s just running. But there’s a bigger lesson here. All the anxiety I have suffered, my control freak ways, all the doubts and the intense hunger for affirmation – all of these hinge upon me fearing more than trusting.

I don’t really have to choose one of my Lenten sacrifices this year. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the lesson here doesn’t lie in the choosing but in the accepting instead.


A Good Friday Reflection

crucifix3%5B1%5D A Good Friday Reflection

Image Credit: Two Hearts Design

This hasn’t been the greatest Lent. That’s an understatement, actually.  In all honesty, I feel like an epic failure. I set the bar low, and I still couldn’t meet any of my spiritual goals.

Yet in spite of me and my failings, Easter will come. In the face of my sins and my foibles, there will be hope. New Life in Him is not dependent on my performance. Thank God for that.

Dying on the cross, Jesus thirsted for souls. He went to all this trouble and endured great suffering. Yet, there are so many, myself included many times, who don’t really appreciate his sacrifice. We continue to crucify Him with our own sins – no matter how small. How awful that must feel not only to God, but to His Mother, too. She stood at the foot of the cross and watched her only son suffer and die. She accepted everything with trust and grace. And here I am, unable to even make some pitifully small sacrifices in honor of Him.

Oh, Mary, it would be a lot easier to hate those who hurt Him, wouldn’t it? I bet it would even feel good – at least for a fleeting, pleasurable moment – to hate all of us who betray your Son with our actions (or our lack of action – say, being too tired to pray to Him).

Instead, Mary and Jesus chose to forgive again and again and to look beyond our weaknesses and our repeat offenses and to love.

I haven’t been very good at loving anyone but myself lately.

But I refuse to be a Judas. I refuse to give up, to cave in to despair. I cling to hope, hope in a God whose mercy is endless and who loves me even when I don’t deserve it. Like Peter after he betrayed Christ, I long to look into Jesus’ eyes, into Love itself, even though it might be easier to look away.

Easter is coming. I keep reminding myself of that. It doesn’t feel like I deserve an Easter after such a pathetic Lent.

I have some loved ones who not only deserve the joy of Easter but who will be living it on Sunday.

My cousin has been fighting leukemia for 3 1/2 years, but on Easter day he stops taking his oral chemo. Isn’t that beautiful? A priest will be offering a personal Mass in their home to celebrate this new beginning for him. Entering the phase known as “survivorship” on Easter Sunday takes the whole idea of “new life” to a new level, doesn’t it?

This Easter will be the first day of the rest of his cancer-free life. Deo gratias. He was 15 when he was diagnosed. He’s spent most of his teen years fighting cancer. Whereas my Lent has been too short, his has been far too long.

My aunt understands, more than I, what it means to stand at the foot of the cross. She understands what it means to be faithful in everything and every circumstance. Come Easter, she’ll embrace the new life in Him, in her own son, just as she has taken up the way of the cross for so long now.

This Easter is for my cousin. It’s for his mom, his dad, his entire family.

It’s for my dad who recently said he feels a lot like Mary sometimes having to helplessly watch his wife suffer with grace and endurance and to standby and witness his mom – who lives with my parents – have to face the realities of old age. He can help. He can pray. He can trust. But he can’t take my mom or our nana’s crosses completely away.

This Easter is most definitely for my sweet mama who despite failed surgeries and medical treatments clings to hope and gives thanks for a beautiful life.

Easter is for you, too. It’s for me. It’s for those who believe and those who don’t. It’s for those who suffer as well as those who seem to glide through life with nary a care in the world.

It’s for us all.

Imagine that. You don’t have to. It’s the Truth.

 His Truth.

We are all God’s beloved children, and we are all capable of being raised in glory.

Today there is darkness. There’s sadness. There is pain. There are lowly bodies that fail us. There are broken hearts and spirits.

In this world, there is suffering, disease, disaster, hate, indifference, neglect.

In my life, I get it right some of the time. Sometimes I don’t.

He is there through it all.

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

God says the word with the cross. Each nail driven in deeper and deeper drives His love into us.

And on Easter, whether we’ve kept all of our Lenten promises or not, whether we’ve suffered from cancer or another sickness, whether we’ve had to watch a loved one endure pain, whether we’ve held grudges, whatever our past, on Easter morning our souls shall be healed.

Our future is in Him. How can we not be full of hope and new life?



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