I couldn’t make it to Mass on Wednesday, which meant that I sailed through the first day of Lent with a squeaky-clean, ashless forehead. Maybe that’s why I was so determined to observe the traditional Ash Wednesday fast. I dutifully had a skimpy breakfast and lunch, a modest, meatless dinner, and absolutely nothing else (except for the mid-morning granola bar that I need in order to have the energy to get through my classes. I figure that teachers must get some teeny exemption from the rules, for professional purposes.)
And I learned that when you can’t eat between meals, you realize how much you really do eat in the course of a day. I couldn’t casually grab a candy from the counter at work. I couldn’t snack on a few grapes as I got dinner for the boys. I couldn’t eat the stray blueberry Lukey didn’t finish. I couldn’t eat the leftover birthday cake that my mom baked for me.
And because I couldn’t, I thought about food a lot.
And I was actually embarrassed at myself for doing so. So I was going six hours without eating: big whoop. This was just one little day without snacking – not without food, without snacking, for Pete’s sake. Compared to the plight of the poor, the truly hungry, this was nothing. I knew that. And still, in spite of my secret embarrassment, I couldn’t wait for Thursday to arrive.
“You can always stay up and eat at midnight,” Scott suggested around 8:45, when I mentioned how hungry I was. He offered a suggestion from the Lenten Fridays of his college years: you call and order a pizza, but you strategically time the call so the pizza is delivered right at midnight. This is the kind of thinking that made me fall in love with him in the first place. (For the record, I went to bed about ten, so I’ll have to try his idea another time.)
Overall, though, the fast — frustrating though it was – taught me a few things. It showed me, in a very minor capacity, how it feels to be hungry. It made me look more consciously at my routine, at the habits that I do without thinking. It made me realize that I have other habits besides snacking that are worth looking at more closely. Yes, I sometimes eat without really thinking– what else do I do without really thinking? Go online? Fall prey to critical thoughts? Flip on the TV rather than enjoying some silent prayer?
Yes, yes, and yes.
And that’s what Lent is, really, isn’t it? – a chance to examine our routines and our habits, to see which ones are getting in the way of an intentional life. When we stop doing something for a time, it’s a chance to realize how much we rely on that thing, for better or for worse. And it’s a chance to see if there is something more life-giving, more soul-enriching, that we can do in its place.
Image courtesy of Karen’s Whimsy.