Last Tuesday night, the evening before Ash Wednesday, I decided I would get an ice cream cone. I hadn’t had an ice cream cone for at least three months. I ordered a waffle cone with two scoops of Rocky Road ice cream, my favorite. It tasted so good that I woofed it down before taking another breath.
When I woke up the next morning I was feeling a bit nauseous. I thought to myself, “Am I getting the flu?” “Did I have a case of food poisoning?” Then it dawned on me, “Oh yeah … I had ice cream last night.” You see, I have been doing my best keeping away from junk food for a while. Also, I have stayed away from the “love of my life” – Bread, except for Holy Communion. I have noticed that even adding a little bread (usually, a hamburger) could make me a little queasy. In fact, since being on my diet, adding any carbs produced the same result, since I have been avoiding carbs as much as possible.
So, why am I talking about ice cream and carbs as we begin Lent? I believe it provides a great metaphor for what Lent is all about.
After dieting for most of my life I have noticed that abstinence from junk food and carbs I crave can make me feel uncomfortable and at times sick to my stomach. I’m not a doctor, but after a lifetime of dieting I have learn that whatever we put in our body can become something our bodies then begin to crave. We see this in such things as dangerous drugs, alcohol, and nicotine addictions. Once we have these cravings, or even addictions, we begin to “order our lives” toward satisfying these strong cravings (or addictions). Some drug addicts justify stealing, or even murder to get what they need to feed their addiction.
Moreover, this is not limited to substances that enter the body. We can also crave – or become obsessed with – the need for the newest gadget or biggest house or nicest car. We can also be obsessed with the need for ego-gratification … like being recognized, popular, esteemed and honored. Also, we can even find ourselves in a place where another person (or even a cause) in our life is the sole source of happiness for us. These things or honors or people then become our EVERYTHING. So, we turn to these as our “source(s) of happiness.” It’s no wonder why we then find ourselves depressed and empty when we can’t have our ice cream (or alcohol, etc.), or we didn’t receive that honor, or that person disappointed us.
Lent is a period to “detach” from those things that we have allowed to become our god. Our god, in the sense that they have become the highest priority in our life. This isn’t about demonizing ice cream or a glass of wine or an honor we receive or loved ones in our lives. This is about taking an honest look at how we may have allowed any of these to rank higher than God in our life.
While we are “detaching,” we can recognize how strong these things are – honors or people or bad habits- that have laid hold of us. We groan as we MISS them. But, an interesting thing happens, which brings me back to my ice cream metaphor. The more we become detached from those things we “used” as the source(s) of happiness in our lives, the more they lose their strangle hold on us. Like getting sick from ice cream, we can even develop an aversion to some of these things that we may be better off dispensing with in our lives, especially if they threaten becoming a higher priority than God.
So, while I have been avoiding foods that are bad for me, I have been embracing foods that are healthier for me and developing a desire for these “better things.” This is also what happens in the spiritual life. When we are stuck to the junk food of worldliness, we will often have an aversion to the healthy food of the spiritual life. We complain how busy we are and express that we just don’t have time to pray, all the while we are immersed in our “every other care” than God.
This Lent take the time to disconnect from your acquisitiveness and concentrate on connecting with God and reorder your disordered lives. Spend less time feeding your lives with shallow and mediocre things, and more time focused upon “higher and deeper things.” After a period, we become more desirous of these higher things, and detached from those base things that were “ruling our lives.” The author of Hebrews sums it up when he writes “let us approach (God) with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22-23)