Sometimes I wonder if I have a secret power to influence the weather. Not control it outright, just give it a nudge or two in the general direction of my mood. I wake up feeling bright and sunny and low and behold, not a cloud in the sky. Or, like today, I wake up feeling burdened and gloomy and sure enough, it’s dreary and damp out. Of course, the more logical explanation is that I am influenced by the weather rather than the other way around. But today, it isn’t just the weather that has put me in a somber mood. With the scent of brownies and celebration still hanging in the air from last night’s “Fat Tuesday Feast”, I now am looking out at forty days of famine. Okay, not literal famine, but rather, beverage famine.
You see, each year about two or three weeks before Ash Wednesday, I search my heart and try to come up with the most challenging abstention I can think of. Looking past a mere enjoyment of chocolate and shoving aside an intervention-worthy caffeine addiction, I bravely choose something that makes me shiver with ascetic anticipation; something that would make the desert fathers nod in approval. It’s easy to do, of course, two weeks prior, but as Lent approaches, my heart begins to squirm a bit under the building pressure and the negotiations begin. The serpent of my undisciplined spirit begins whispering in my ear and my conviction wavers. “Perhaps a bit of modification is in order, just to guard against legalism, ya know.” Then the day arrives and it’s too late and so for the next forty days the grey clouds will hover as I do battle with my freakishly strong will.
Having done this for several years now, two things strike me as interesting bookends to the experience of Lent. The first is that no matter how much self-indulgence I practice the day before, it is never enough. I could stay up ’til midnight stuffing my face or watching film after film, and I would still wake up on Wednesday longing for just one more hit of chocolate or one more chick flick. I suppose it is a symptom of our fallen state that we are always wanting more and yet a remnant of our previous glory that even brownies, no matter how tasty or plentiful, aren’t what we are really longing for. Whenever I voluntarily relinquish something that I normally enjoy, I am confronted with the depth of greed and utter ingratitude. After all, I have only given up one thing and am left with a myriad of other choices. Yet the knowledge that there is one thing I can’t have irritates me to no end because I realize how childish it is. Recognizing my weak and petty nature, my only refuge must be at the feet of God’s mercy. So in the end, what should be a rather depressing realization of my shortcomings is transformed into an acknowledgment of His endless grace.
The other observation I have made about fasting, whether from a food or activity, is that the end never lives up to hype. Several years ago, I was expecting our daughter and had given up sweets for Lent. Maggie was born on Good Friday and my sister brought me a Tupperware container full of one of my favorite treats to celebrate with on Easter morning. I stared at that container day and night, only to forget to eat one come Sunday morning. When I finally did eat one, sure it was good (okay, really good), but like an itch that refuses to be scratched, it was not truly satisfying. Whatever it is I have given up, I am left saying “This is what I was longing for all this time?” What a happy thought it is to know that one day I will leave behind this world of half pleasures and live forever in complete contentment. What a mind-blowing thought to know that Jesus did the reverse, giving up all the delights of heaven to live and die and live again in order to bring us home. Now that is truly something to look forward to.