Undoing Our Addictions During Lent

I weigh less now, at 29 years old, than I did in 7th grade, when my nickname was “Sarah the Whale”. My weight has been a battle for most of my life. I was a cute, chubby kid when I started school. By the time my mom died at age 7, I packed on the pounds fast and furious. My family, reeling from grief and sorrow at my mother’s death, didn’t have it in them to tell me no, to recognize that I was drowning my suffering with oreos and pop-tarts. Who wants to tell a little girl with no mother that she can’t have a piece of cake?

Yes, I’ve had a disordered relationship with food nearly all of my life. Even now, when I finally weigh the number my driver’s license says I weigh, I still struggle with food. I’m a recovering food addict. The lesson I learned as a child was that food will never leave you, like my mother and eventually father both did. Food is always there. Food won’t run you down when your back is turned. After eating six cookies, the all consuming grief which I barely had the language to name, subsided for a time, replaced with a warm, loving feeling. The addict’s high. What I learned, growing up in a nominally religious household, and with deep pain no child should know, was to find comfort, acceptance, and love in the arms of food. Not in the arms of God.

Now, as an adult who rediscovered her faith, and discovered a God who loves me, I am unlearning these lessons. Lent is a powerful teacher. Of course the pain is still there. There’s always some kind of suffering. As a wise woman once told me, “If you’re not in the midst of suffering, it’s a lull.” This lent, my suffering comes in the form of secondary infertility. Of humiliating trips to doctor’s offices for ultrasounds, blood tests, and pricey medications that have no guarantee of working. That’s my suffering. It’s what sends me running to the freezer, looking for the ice cream we wisely threw away on Ash Wednesday.

shutterstock_129445577We all have our own suffering, and all but the holiest among us also have something that we turn to when we should be turning to God. For me, food. For others: drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, work, shopping, television. So many gods before God. Nearly all of us are guilty. In his goodness, God gives us Lent. To teach us. Lent is an invitation to let go of those things we put ahead of God. To let God’s love and mercy fill the void that we mindlessly fill with “stuff”. Lent is God’s invitation to us, to let him be God in our lives. Our invitation to turn to him when we want to turn away. To turn us outward when the crippling pain of suffering turns us inward.

After all, our God gives us his very body and blood, as true food and drink. Of course he wants to feed us. His food, real food, gives us the grace and strength to keep turning to him, especially when we want to turn away. The beautiful thing about Lent is the opportunity it provides. When we fast, particularly from those things which we run to instead of God, we open up a space within ourselves for the holy Spirit to fill us. Fasting is a gift which allows us to cultivate an ordered relationship to those things which have become God in our lives.

What “stuff” is god before God in your life? What can you fast from during the rest of this Lent in order to open that space for God? What lesson is Lent trying to teach you?

 

Image credit: shutterstock.com

By

Sarah Babbs is a married mother of a toddler girl, writing from Indiana where she moved for love after growing up on the east coast. Sarah and lawyer husband, lead marriage prep classes for their parish in addition to daydreaming about becoming lunatic farmers. During stolen moments when the toddler sleeps and the laundry multiplies itself, Sarah writes about motherhood, Catholic social thought, and ponders the meaning of being a woman "made in the image of God". Her website is Fumbling Toward Grace.

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  • Ann

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is a gentle reminder to give up those things that separate us from God.

  • Erin Pascal

    I can totally relate to this. I am also struggling with my weight and I have tried all ways possible to stay in shape. This lent, I have surrendered to Him one of the things that I love the most and that is food. I am fighting my food cravings and addictions and so far, I am doing a good job. I know that I will be able to get through this because it is from Him that I get the strength to continue.

  • Pauline

    I don’t think the ‘disordered’ relationship was with the food – rather with your self. We all have that to one degree or another. As a woman made ‘in the image of God’ you are commanded by Jesus, to love your self, that same ‘image’. When we really take that on board – loving who are are as human beings, all those disordered-nesses lose their power over us. Love casts out the fear – not least the fear of who we are as human beings – made in the image of God, all equal in Christ.

  • Dana Knight

    Thank you for sharing Sarah. Everyone in my family struggles with weight … and Lent.

    ;-)

  • A Mom

    Are you familiar with NaProTechnology? This is a Catholic approach to infertility, that was developed at the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Nebraska.

  • Pat

    Thank you for writing and sharing. I wish you could go around and get all people’s attention about how we put little gods in our lives instead of the one God. I just marvel at the wisdom in the Bible. And people have not changed. We tend to put our energy and focus on the wrong things. We need constant reminders like the one you gave us.

  • chaco

    I just learned from Fr. Barron’s film series; “Catholicism” that St. Aquinas, foremost Church Doctor/ Theologian, teaches how we replace God with 4 main things; 1) W ealth
    2) H onor (popularity) 3) P leasure 4) P ower I use the acronymn W.H.P.P. (pronounced whip) to help me stay aware of my greatest enemies. One perspective I find helpful in my “Body Issues” struggles is from 1 TIM. 4: 8 ; “… While physical fitness is somewhat valuable, the discipline of Faith formation is incalcuably more so, with its promise of life here & hereafter.”

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