CW: I talk about my relationship to food in this one. If that's a triggering subject for you then you may want to skip this post <3 Take care of you!
I never observed Lent growing up (we weren't the flavour of Christian that did that sort of thing). But somehow it crept into my life as I entered adulthood. Many years, it's been a fascinating time of growth and change for me.
This Lent, I decided to give up sweet and snacky food.
Let's take a quick side road to say that I hate the term "junk food". Food is food. Calling it junk seems to be putting a moral value on it and I don't think food has moral value. So from here on I'm using the term "sweet foods". Just because that generally covers the foods I decided to give up. Honestly, the food wasn't the point, so I haven't drawn strict lines about what is and is not acceptable. It's more like guidelines than actual rules. I know what falls under it; no one else really needs an explanation.
Anyway. I've actually never done this before. Although it is a very common thing to give up sweet foods for Lent, I've never done it because I didn't want to be someone who uses Lent as a weird diet/self punishment thing. That isn't what Lent is about to me. And I could easily identify more important things to give up or take on during the Lenten season. And if I'm being completely honest here, I didn't believe I could give up the food that I really, truly love for 40 days. My relationship to food can be kinda complicated ("JOEY DOES NOT SHARE FOOD!!!" speaks to my soul), and it was a sleeping giant that I just didn't want to touch. I wasn't ready, and that's okay. It's okay to know you aren't ready to face something.
But this time around a few things happened. I've known that over the last several years I've started to use sweet foods in a big way to numb uncomfortable feelings. Like, bordering on a real problem. Not weight-wise, but psychologically. When Zach and I separated I quickly realized that this was a pretty important time of transition in my life, and that feeling the feelings would be extremely important to emerging from this season a healthy and whole person. And I turned to my comforting foods to help me cope with some pretty devastating feelings of sadness, emptiness, loss, grief, you name it.
I was beginning to feel that, although sometimes I would want those foods to help me feel better, I was getting to place where I was ready to try to handle my feelings without covering them up in food. I was just ready to change. I seriously believe that going on antidepressants helped me be ready to approach this part of me with love and gentleness.
So let's get this clear: I didn't give up food for weight loss or a sense of self-hatred, denial, or restriction. I wanted to approach some of the deepest fears I have by gently removing the ways I cover up those fears. This is part of how I knew it was okay for me right now.
I've been reading this book by Richard Rohr called "Everything Belongs". It's about contemplative prayer and it is changing my life. Initially I read it in one big gulp, but I decided to go back and read a little bit before bed each night. There's the one part where Richard is talking about "liminality" - the edges or the threshold of things - as being a place of transformation. He also talks about how letting go is the path to transformation. He gives the image of someone escaping to the beach for a vacation. They need refreshment and renewal that will last past the vacation. They need a change. But they come back and immediately fall into their old ways. He says, "They let go of nothing at the beach". And that stuck with me because no matter how many retreats I go on or meditations I do, I have to willing to change my behaviour, to let go of something so I can have room for change and transformation.
Whenever I crave sweet things (and I do crave them), I remember "they let go of nothing at the beach." Then I try to remind myself that change can only come by letting go of things. And, for me, sweet foods is something I have held on to very tightly these last few years.
There have been times this Lent where I haven't been successful in letting go. I have had sweet things; and I honestly feel no shame for that. I'm a damn human; I can't always resist the urge to purchase a seasonal McFlurry when my brother is getting one. That's okay. I don't even need to forgive myself because I know it's not about the food. It's about the inner journey. I'm just feeling my way forward in the dark. I am kind to myself and remember there's also a time to let go of rules.
But often I'm able to realize that 95% of the time I only want sweet food to distract from an emptiness I feel elsewhere in my psyche. Like eating when you're bored, but a little more sinister. Sometimes it's emptiness that I can't handle. But often it's an emptiness that I can handle, I just don't want to. And I realize this emptiness will not go away by ignoring it or patching it up with food. So I allow myself to feel the need, the empty feeling, and be open to transformation in that emptiness. Not transformation about "healthy eating" or anything like that. Oh God, not that at all. This journey is not about a moral judgment on food. It's about being open to transformation within myself, a person who avoids any sense of pain or longing or difficulty. A person who wants to resolve those things ASAP and get back to being comfortable. My overwhelming and automatic response to troublesome feelings is hurry up and make them go away so I don't have to ask myself where they come from or what they're trying to tell me. People use different things to avoid those uncomfortable feelings. For me, it's food. With food I can avoid facing the problem. And sometimes it's good to avoid the problem. Sometimes I am not in a place where I can handle the problem. I can admit that and allow me to be not ready for things, to not be able to handle them right now. I don't have to handle everything right now.
But I wanted to use this Lent to explore the emptiness, the problems, the anxiety. Even after what feels like many weeks (this has been the longest 40 days of LIFE, and it's not even over!), I don't have big self-aware revelation to share. But I am open to it. I'm trying to embrace the emptiness that I feel with my body, with sex, with the ending of my marriage, with loneliness, with fears about the future, fears about my lovability, fears about who I am becoming, with anxiety, with no sense of control, with my need for tenderness. Just see those needs and feelings and everything in my life that just feels like holes. Everything that feels unmet. I see them. I let them be there. I don't try to hide them or cover them or ignore them or even fix them. I just allow them to be acknowledged in my life.
I don't know what will happen with the emptiness and the needing and the fears, all those holes. I don't know how to fix them. I don't know if they will ever go away. But I believe they can be the very portal through which God can enact important change. Through which I can enact important change. Then I begin to see that they aren't holes so much as entry points, thresholds, liminal spaces where God can get in to the parts of me that most need Their presence.