Hello. My name is Heather. And I have a problem with Lent.
Before you sharpen your pencils to compose a blistering letter to our esteemed editor recounting my heresies, I humbly implore you to please hear me out.
I know all about the regulations and practices and have heard countless suggestions for having the BEST. LENT. EVERRR. I understand that the Church, in Her wisdom, provides us with this designated time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as an opportunity and a gift. As one who enjoys opportunities and gifts, I am totally on board. Goodness – I actually like Lent, in theory, and often in practice – especially when I can continue consuming bacon and gelato and social media. I’ll even go on record as being pro-Lent. And yet, I have struggled with discerning and maintaining my personal Lenten observances.
My theory is that my difficulty with Lent was rooted in a skewed notion of what the season is actually intended to accomplish. As an example, let’s look at my approach to fasting.
Over the years, I’ve attempted to give up just about everything – sweets, screens, sanity – you name it. And I think I knew, at least in the back of my mind, that I was sacrificing something I enjoyed to become closer to God. But I don’t think that half-praying, half-crying, “Dear God, when will it be Easter so I can eat chocolate/drink coffee/indulge myself?!” several times a day for 40 days straight is what our Lord had in mind.
In case I didn’t scare you off with my first post and you’ve returned for even more unexpected joy, I must confess that, while things improved over yesterday, there was lots of residual (and some new) funk in the air today. So, in an effort to shake that funk up, my husband and decided to have a much-needed at-home date night. After the week we’ve had it was most welcome.
Here’s our recipe for an easy do-it-yourself date night at home in eight easy steps:
Go to the nearest Trader Joe’s.
Head to the freezer section.
Select and purchase lots of food that looks good to you that your children aren’t interested in eating (i.e. spelt risotto, crispy coconut shrimp, French country potatoes, stuffed mushrooms).
Make fun dinner for children (pizza, pancakes, leftovers – aka “Basque Night”) to eat a bit earlier than usual.
Put children down for bed a bit early (change the clocks if you must).
Begin cooking together (unless one of you is horrible at it; then just pretend to work together, but be nice).
Make the table look nice (remove crayon marks, perhaps use a clean placemat, remove crusty cheerios from chairs).
Sit down, breathe, enjoy.
Good company, delicious food, excellent conversation, no huge restaurant bill, you don’t have to pay a babysitter, and you don’t have to get out of your sweats if you don’t want to = success. Praising God for the unexpected joy of quality time today with the man I love.
Confession: I haven’t always lived the shiniest life ever. As Freddie Mercury so emphatically sang, ” … and bad mistakes/I’ve made a few.” Or five hundred.
But since my reversion process began, with many starts and pauses along the way, I’ve really tried to walk as a child of the light, and part of that walk, for me, means taking care of myself by not smoking, not drinking to excess, not using illicit drugs, and staying true to my marriage vows.
Am I perfect? Excuse me while I go laugh myself completely off the page. No. I am absolutely not perfect. Just ask my husband and my children. But I keep trying. And trying. And trying. Ad nauseum. My Mom used to tell me growing up that saints keep trying while sinners give up. Well, I haven’t completely given up yet. I surely have a long way to go, but I hope it’s a shorter climb than it was when I was living as a agnostic hedonist 20 years ago.
And there are plenty of temptations, even as a mostly clean-living person. That used to surprise me: “I’m doing the right things! I love Jesus! I pray! I go to Mass every Sunday! I go to Confession! Why am I still being tempted?!” After some prayerful reflection, however, the ongoing temptations made so much sense: Of course I’m being tempted. Usually the enemy will try to get you where he’s gotten you before, and if you aren’t vigilant, BOOM! You’re taken completely off-guard by temptation that you thought you’d conquered years (or months or days) ago. The enemy of our souls doesn’t want us in the game of life at all, and especially not a life surrendered to Jesus, so he’ll use whatever he possibly can to take us out of the game.
Usually any desire I have to backslide is eventually trumped by my desire for Heaven.
Except. I still struggle. For several years now – maybe even for most of my life – the devil has been doing whatever he can to keep me out of the game using something that we all need to survive: food.
It’s not like there’s something morally wrong with food, as can be argued with other addictions. If someone handed me a bottle of vodka, I could graciously decline by saying, “No thanks, I’m cool.” I don’t NEED alcohol to survive, although after long days with lotsa kids, it surely can feel like it! 😉 But with food, man, it’s hard. We need food to survive. Granted, do I need mint M&Ms and pork rinds and chocolate cake to survive? No. But the stuff that nourishes always seems to be right next to the stuff that doesn’t on the buffet table. And so I take some. And eat it. And then I want more, so I eat more. And then I feel badly. So I eat more again. And on and on it goes.
Not only do I have a hard time with self-control and food choices, I really don’t care for exercise. Like, I hate it. That’s not a good combination. After five pregnancies in nine years, I think I probably could stand to lose about 75 pounds. The extra weight I carry contributes to feelings of depression, anxiety, fatigue, worthlessness … so many things. And yet, I continue to struggle.
For some reason, I especially struggle with keeping sugar at bay. It’s like my kryptonite or something. Seemingly, a pattern was established from early childhood: I remember the neighbor girl taking me across the street to buy sweets at the corner store. I remember using my garage sale money to buy ungodly amounts of candy. I remember my grandmother greeting me with a box of Red Vines whenever we’d visit. I remember going out for ice cream after each band concert, piano recital, play performance …
Last summer, I really and honestly rallied to make a permanent lifestyle change. After the cloud of post-partum depression from my fifth pregnancy finally lifted, I decided I was tired of being a food zombie, mindlessly eating whatever, whenever, and joined a national weight loss program. I lost weight. I stuck to my guns and lost more. I felt really, really good about my progress. Then we were hit by a cloud of stress including a surprising cross-country move and some other really tough things, and the weight started creeping – and then leaping – back on. I tried to go to meetings, but my previous resolve seemed so very far away and outside my ability.
I don’t know if my attachment to food – specifically to sugar – could be classified as an addiction, but maybe? I sometimes feel powerless to its allure. I have all the resolve in the world … until I don’t. I feel empowered … until I don’t. I exercise amazing self-control … until something like this happens on the day I have a Mother’s helper and am supposed to be working on 5,000 words for my end-of-the-month deadline:
And then I want to drink all the sugary coffee drinks in the world to make myself feel better.
Yet … I only feel better for a tiny window of space and time, and then … I don’t. I feel awful. I’ve fallen. Again. It makes me feel so dumb and helpless. I’m a smart person! I love Jesus! I have overcome so. many. things! Why can’t I overcome this??!
I spoke with my Spiritual Director about self-control the other day. It was interesting, because as I lamented how I frequently don’t feel like I have the power within me to say,”no,” he sagely suggested: “Perhaps, Heather, you need to do this for someone other than yourself.” What he was suggesting was that I offer up my cravings and self-discipline in food choices and exercise as a sacrificial prayer for other people, causes, and intentions. He was encouraging me, in essence to nail my temptation to the Cross.
Bottom line? Perhaps, dear readers, it is time for me to pick up my cross and try yet again. Will you please, please pray for me? I would very much like to know how I may pray for you as I’m on this journey. Maybe you’re struggling with something that’s really tough for you, too, and just don’t know how you’re going to overcome it. Maybe you just need to know that you’re not alone. Feel free to be specific or just say “special intention” in the comments. Thank you, thank you, thank you! <3
Oh, and by the way – yes, I did buy that gorgeously blended coffee drink (above) today. But it is sugar-free, half-caffeinated, with non-fat milk. Baby steps, y’all.
This past week without the Internet and a landline was crazy. Very unfamiliar, and quite enlightening in a way, but also crazy.
And today is seemingly no different. Yes, our Internet is back, but there’s always something. When will I admit that “crazy” is kind of our family’s default mode? The denial is strong up in here.
Anyway, poor husband’s back seems to be thisclose to going out completely, and has been since yesterday afternoon. But I did manage to concoct some yummy food for the rowdy crew.
The homeschooler awoke at 5:15 this morning puking her guts out, the boy baby keeps running into things and falling, and I missed the girl baby’s first day of preschool because of aforementioned puking homeschooler (sorry – I said “puking” twice in that last sentence). But she got there safe and sound. Here she is!
Annnd … wait for it … I have started to feel a bit icky myself. Perhaps it is the sheer power of suggestion, but I have a feeling it might just be my turn. The tummy bug kept our two away-from-home schoolers from schooling a while back, so it is possible.
Well, cheer up, gentle reader! We try to praise the Lord in all things around here, bad backs and puking kids and ill-tempered people (ahem) notwithstanding.
Also, also: there is still time to win a wonderful homeschooling book by my friend Rebecca Frech! Enter in the comments below, or here or here and I’ll announce a winner on Wednesday, the Feast of St. Monica. That seems as appropriate a day as any; I’m sure that, as the mother of the infamous (not always) Saint(ly) Augustine, Monica had her fill of craziness. She may have made him a saint, but I’m willing to consider it was possibly the other way around.