In considering Lent, I have been trying to get down to the bare question, “What is between God and me?” I have often given up guilty pleasures like sweets and soda during this time, mostly failing due to a lack of commitment. One would think 40 days was a do-able stretch, but alas, I never cared enough to make it stick. This is not to say I am not a goal-orientated person – in fact I am. But Lent felt to me an arbitrary period to extend one’s efforts in expelling bad habits. I didn’t perhaps understand Lent in full. I am a Christian and I have been saved through the God’s mercy and not through good works. He gave his son so I might live and a lack of high fructose does not contribute to this glorious truth.
Well, I’ve been missing the point. Lent is a season of reflection of needing to be saved in the first place! Acknowledging and honoring that sacrifice can and should be met with an alteration in what “isn’t working”, and hopefully a shift towards His perfect working way.
And so I began to consider ashes. Biblically a symbol of grief, ashes also represent the mortality and fragility of our earthly bodies. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19). It makes sense then that bodily fasting would be a primary form of Lenten observance. I am certainly tempted by poor choices in nutrition (particularly all things carb), but there isn’t an exact food item or food group that stands out as singularly sinful in my behaviors. Is it a collectiveness that needs modification or outright removal? NO CARBS & NO CAFFEINE & NO ALCOHOL. And with these thoughts I find myself in a mindset I have battled almost my whole life: Weakness, Guilt, Binge Goal Setting, Ultimate Failure, Self Loathing.
In my 20s my mom once said to me, “My body has always bothered me, “ swatting away the thought with her hand as an insignificant bug in the air, “but it has never tortured me as it tortures you.” Torture? Tortured me?? How sad! And ridiculous, the idea that the body God has given me would be a source of psychological torture and pain! But it rang true. Terribly and heartbreakingly true.
I have thought of this many times over the years, not sure what to do with the idea. I have thought about it running miles and miles of pavement in punishment for cookies and cream sauce. I have thought about it squeezing into one-size-smaller jeans (since surely one size smaller would make me happy, right?). I have thought about it, I’m ashamed to say, binging on excessive calories and purging them away. It is without a doubt the number one thing between God and me. Not the carbs, not the caffeine, not the alcohol, not even the occasional cigarette (sorry mom). It’s the torturous body obsession I fall into and guilt I impose on myself that are my most crippling obstacles.
Finally, I am ready. My kids and my husband are no small factors in my readiness. As a mom of 2 little kids, I have not nearly the time for the vanity and subsequent binge behaviors that once occupied my mind in greater percent. Also my kids don’t care two hoots about my size or shape, and prefer, in their ever-practical desires, my softer edges in moments of rough housing or distress. My husband, God bless him, loves me just the way I am, wherever I am in my fluctuating weight, and tells me so daily. He has never once even hinted that I don’t look entirely hot and attractive. (For real!! Incredibly and beautifully real.)
I should say, I certainly don’t mean to remove healthy intentions from my daily choices (after all, Girl Scout cookies have just arrived this week and no one should be around boxes of Thin Mints without boundaries!). Also, I absolutely believe that for many people a simpler abolishment of sugar or coffee is ample in their Lenten journey. I only wish that was the case for me! I have 4 older siblings, each with body images and eating psychologies well within healthy parameters I think. I yearn to feel as they do! Which might just mean, by the way, not feeling so much about it.
What I really want is to do my best, and not punish myself for minor indiscretions by removing myself from my Father. I don’t want to hide from Him in self-loathing, waiting for the times when I am stronger to be with Him. I want to have a piece of chocolate and not feel so defeated that I have 12 more in an effort to go down in flames so I might rise better and braver from the ashes… For there is no better and braver while separated from God. There is no rising at all. There is only ash.
This Lenten season, I am asking the Lord to be with me while I let go of my body obsessions and see clearly His intentions and desires for my physical health. I ask Him to stand with me in battle against devilish guilt and worry so that I may be at ease with His perspective clear in my heart. I ask for the strength to make good choices and the wisdom to be kind to myself when I fall short. I ask to keep and to grow my sense of humor about it all.
What about you? What are you “giving up” for Lent? If you don’t know, or maybe don’t understand Lent in full, I recommend beginning by asking yourself the bare question: What’s between God and me?
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. -1 John 3: 18-20 (English Standard translation)
My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. -1 John 3: 18-20 (The Message)
images: Repentance of Peter by Carl Heinrich Bloch; Study of Disappointed Love by Carl Ferdinand; Painting by Patraliini; Mirror by Pablo Picasso; Prayer by Tania Vasylenko; Mesa Walk by Steve Henderson