Easter was last weekend, and with that day came the end of the Lenten Season. For any readers not familiar with the Christian tradition, some believers will perform a fast for 40 days (plus Sundays which you’re allowed to break fast on). That means 40 days of giving something up to focus on the sacrifice of Christ. The length of the fast is connected with the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert after his baptism (though he didn’t get to visit home on Sundays), which in turn is a reflection of the 40 years that the Israelites wandered the desert after generations of slavery in Egypt (again, without days off chilling out in Cabo).
I remember Lent being a pretty minor part of my church growing up; it became more important when I attending a Christian college. Though there, fasting at Lent seemed more like a religious excuse to diet rather than an act of worship or humility. It seemed like half the women in my dorm would be fasting from chocolate, soda, television, and/or carbs for the two months. Well, that was the plan anyways. It was rare that anyone spoke about their fasting beyond the first week or two. Much like New Years Resolutions, our will to skip the frozen yogurt machine was weak and the chocolate toppings were strong.
I’ve only been “successful” at giving something up twice, and both of those experiences were long after my “good Christian girl” phase of life. Now my faith is much more complicated, and in my opinion, real. Six or seven years ago I heard a lecture about Blood Water Mission a week before Lent began. The proposal was to give up purchasing drinks for 40 days, and to donate any funds you would have spent to build wells in another country. So give up Starbucks, soda machines, milk, juice, and all liquids other than tap water for people who don’t have the privilege I do of turning a knob to get clean water. I really really really didn’t want to do it. But the voice in the back of my head (my own little Jiminy Cricket) asked a good question: Why not? Since all of my answers were basically whining sounds, I signed the registration pledge by the end of the day. Over the next two months I went through major caffeine withdrawals, discovered that some food (like hot dogs) are just bleh without a soda, and confused baristas when I asked them to fill my water bottle as I purchased a scone but no drink. I made it to the end of the season and actually changed my caffeine intake for a full year to just one soda a day (then I became a doctoral student…game over).
My second successful fast was easier than the first, and has had a longer impact. I had been thinking about becoming a vegetarian for several months but could not imagine never having a cheeseburger again. And I knew that one burger would have me falling off the wagon and down a bacon-greased hill. After seeing a TedTalk about becoming a weekday vegetarian, I had a plan that would let me balance tofu and burgers. Lent was my initial detox as I completely gave up meat for the season, not even breaking fast on Sundays. My first meat would be roasted lamb at a friend’s potluck on Easter Day. Since then I’ve primarily stuck with the weekday pattern, with occasional Free Pass days like on Thanksgiving or when I’m with family that don’t understand the method to this particular madness.
With these experiences behind me, I wanted to try again in 2019 for a fast that would be more than some diet and could have a meaningful change. Those previous fasts were ones I was aware of every single day for the season, which I think is the way its supposed to work. This time I had a very different idea in mind, and it was something I figured would be easy since it was just something to do with words, not serious like chocolate.
Well, in the words of Woody Allen, “If you want to make god laugh, tell him your plans.”
God has been laughing for over 40 days now.
To be continued…