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.
We 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?
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