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