Today is Shrove Tuesday. That makes tomorrow Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. It is a important to consider what Lent is and what it isn’t. It is part of Christian calender representing Jesus spending 40 days and nights in the desert fasting and praying. He was tempted and overcame three temptations by Satan. Cookies wasn’t one of them. That’s the elevator pitch.
Economically, it made sense for Lent to occur at this time. The time between harvest and planting was a time of certain unease. You had to budget appropriately. Midwinter, when food was getting low, it made sense to tighten the belts and make do with less. So, while there is a great opportunity to examine our attachment to worldly things, this period came from a very practical reality.
God and Nature
Lent comes at the end of Winter and signals the coming of Spring. It is a journey from darkness into newness of life. Observing Lent means embracing and internalizing what happens in nature as a opportunity for spiritual growth.
What do 40 days of Lent mean to me? On the surface, it’s about not eating sweets and stuff like that. My diet in the middle of winter consists of butter, sugar and chocolate. When Lent comes around, I’m…bloated. Lent would seem like an excuse to diet in time for swimsuit weather. However, I’ve never been able to happily “quit” anything.
If eating cookies were my problem, not eating them would be my solution. However, for me, eating these things represents a desire to be separate from something more uncomfortable. I eat this stuff, not only because it tastes good, but because I’m covering up a certain amount of restlessness and fear.
Removing these crutches, I rely on something I can’t see for support. This is how my faith grows.
Giving and Offering
There is a difference between giving and offering up something. Giving up doesn’t invite relationship. Giving up is an act of willpower. The reason most diets fail is because willpower is finite. Offering up is an act of sharing and relationship. We live our lives in relationships so developing a relationship with the universal power that surrounds us (God for short) makes sense. When I work to maintain a relationship with God, other relationships improve.
So, offering up attachment to junk food is more about developing a better relationship with my physical self and those around me. Yes, I want to lose weight, but, more importantly, I want to be healthy. I only take the things I love for granted.
If it was easy…
God is a difficult relationship to maintain. One need only look through a telescope to get a sense of the smallness of our lives in comparison to the universe. We truly are just dust. It’s hard to reconcile the vastness of the universe with trying to fit into pants.
Who wants a cookie?
Lent is an opportunity to make my journey more meaningful by lightening the load. What I offer up (sweets) distract me from what gives me greater pleasure: meaningful connection with people. Through this lens, the problem isn’t the cookies or cake, it is what I expect them to do for me. I want them to take away the fears and doubts I have about living. Quite a tall order.
However, isn’t this kind of unrealistic expectation the same problem we have relating with each other? Isn’t the big problem we have in the world tied directly to our expectations we place on other people? It seems stupid to think a cupcake can fix what is broken in us, but that same thinking is alive and well in our relationships. We want people to fix us. We put too much dependance on people to “take care” of us. When they fail us, as they always will, we internalize their humanity as a reflection on the quality of our lives.
Today, as I work to improve my relationship with God, I’m confronted with frightening things. I’m scared of people and being vulnerable. Cookies won’t eliminate these self-centered fears. Lord knows, I’ve tried and all I got was fat, nervous, and gassy.
During Lent, I reconnect with what really works; a day at a time. Yes, I go to church. I also am a little more willing to listen to what my body is saying. Through active mediation, I gain a little objectivity around the habits I let control me. I see temporal distractions and my expectations in new light.
Lent is about getting to the center, finding balance. When balanced, I can enjoy a cookie and be more present for meaningful relationship with God and all of you. Surrender is a process, not a failure. Getting to right size means not being driven by fear but transcending it. Not worshiping cookies is a good start. Saying “no” to one thing allows me to say “yes” to what really matters in life. Not such a bad trade-off when you think of it.