I was raised in a non-denominational church. Lent was not something we practiced, and not something I knew of until my late teens. I have grown to appreciate the beauty of this season, but the idea of Lent, of “giving up” something for spiritual discipline, initially appealed to me for all the wrong reasons.
The first person I knew to give up anything for Lent was my sister. She gave up French fries. I remember thinking first that she was SO spiritual, much more sacrificial than me. My second thought was, “Wow, I bet a person could get skinny doing this Lent thing.”
So that’s how it began. I liked the spiritual purity of it, and I liked the fact that weight loss may be an “unintentional” side effect. Lent became a way for me to combine my diet goals with my spiritual goals. Fasting has been a spiritual discipline for thousands of years, but thanks to diet culture and my insecurities, all I could think was how nice it would be to serve God AND get skinny. Under the guise of spiritual purity, I could accomplish something that would appeal to my poor body image.
Looking back I can see how much of a contradiction that is. To “sacrifice” for Christ in order to achieve the body of my dreams. It’s kinda laughable, actually. And of course it never happened. I never followed through, I became discouraged by my failings, and I ended up berating myself for my lack of spirituality and self-discipline.
I don’t think that’s the point of Lent.
According to the United Methodist Church website, Lent is a time of “repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time for self-examination and reflection.” It is a time to be mindful. It is a time walk with Jesus in the desert. It isn’t a time for high-achieving self-improvement plans to feel good about ourselves. It is a time to listen to Him, even during trials and temptation.
I can’t listen to Him when I’m worried about my body image.
I can’t listen to Him when I am consumed with what I can achieve on my own effort.
I can’t listen to Him above the white noise of my self-bullying monologue.
In truth, I think it would be more honoring to Jesus to pray against the idolatry of thinness and fast from a diet mindset. Yes, you heard me. Maybe, instead of fasting from chocolate or fries or ice cream, I could fast from being wrapped up in my own image. Maybe I could fast from the negative self-talk that is a result of putting my body and my achievements on some sort of “self-discipline” pedestal.
Now, if you can fast from a specific food for Lent without leading to a disordered eating or dieting mindset, then by all means, give up what the Lord is calling you to give up! He is so good at searching our hearts and helping us distinguish our motives from pure or impure. He is faithful to renew our spirits and minds… regarding all areas of enslavement. This is a perfect time to examine that.
If you, like me, suffer from the lifelong desire (*cough cough* idolatry) to look and be perfect, then pray for God to enlighten you and show you other ways that you can show your devotion to Him. One year I gave up fiction books (which I have always used as a way to escape from the negative aspects of reality), and I only read spiritual growth books. It was awesome.
I’m still praying about how I can honor God during this time. But I promise you this – it won’t be food-related, and I’ll be checking my motives.
The Good News here? There is GRACE when we fall short. That is the beauty of the Cross and Resurrection.
“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.” – Galatians 5:1, The Message