Last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, I sat in the back of the Chapel after work. I was asking Jesus if it was all right that I ate that extra protein bar at lunch. I thought I should have gone without it.
You see, I am not allowed to fast. Why? Because for over half my life I have struggled with an eating disorder, and since I have been in recovery I have been told not to fast. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not that disappointed that I don’t have to be perpetually hungry, but there is a part of me that feels guilty alongside those who fast. So I sat in the pew trying to sort out which thoughts were of God and which were of the evil one.
The next morning, as I went for a swim before work, I was praying my Rosary to help me meditate on the Life of Jesus. It was Thursday, so I prayed with the Luminous Mysteries, the first being the Baptism in the Jordan. I thought about Jesus, how he willingly took on our humanity and our sins. I am not alone in my Lenten journey, in my eating disorder, in my recovery, in anything at all! This frames Lent as well as anything I do – I am not alone and neither are any of you!
The second mystery, the Wedding Feast of Cana. The Lord doesn’t ask us to make up for our failings on our own. Following the example of Mary, we come to Jesus as beggars, and ask for His help and His mercy, in whatever way He sees fit. I am not doing this Lent thing by myself or for myself, nor am I trying to overcome an addiction by myself or for myself. It is all through Him, in Him, with Him, and for Him. He makes all things new. By my own strength I could never change water into wine or perform any miracle, let alone heal my own addiction, but I can do all things with Christ.
The third mystery, the Proclamation of the Kingdom. The words that came to me as I was swimming back and forth were, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” I worry constantly that I don’t do “enough.” What is this “enough” stuff? I am comparing myself to others, to where I thought I should be, to where I was before, etc. etc. But what does Jesus ask of me? Is it the same as what I am asking of myself?
A few years ago I spent two years as a sister in Religious Life. In my second year, it became clear that I was struggling with eating, and so my Superior forbid me to fast during Lent. My Lenten “fast” was to eat snacks between meals, which were prepared by another sister so that I wouldn’t cheat. This was the greatest poverty I had ever experienced. I saw sisters fasting intensely as I was angrily smothering butter on my toast. And I felt nothing but shame when it was time for my mid-morning snack, which was hidden in the pantry. Hot tears rolled down my face when another confused sister found my hidden snack one day.
My point is not to make you feel bad for me, but to proclaim the truth that this “fast” is what Jesus asked of me. I wanted to choose my own Cross and fast like everyone else was doing, but that wouldn’t have helped me grow closer to Him–which is the point of Lent, right? If I had fasted as most did, I would have gained pride and a feeling of power. I would not have felt that poverty, that truth that I was totally dependent on the Lord and His Love and Mercy. I knew then the humiliation He felt during His Passion, and by knowing Him, He knew me.
As I was finishing my last few laps I prayed with the Transfiguration. I often ask Jesus if He’s sure He still loves me this way, wounded and far from perfect. Sometimes I delay in coming to Him because I want to be perfect first. But wait…perfectionism…that’s what got me into this mess! Jesus takes fallen humanity and glorifies it. He even gives us glimpses of this light and glory in our own lives, in order to give us strength for the times when we can see only darkness. Foreshadowing the Resurrection, Jesus shows us that in our humanity, in our woundedness, even in our sin He comes to us and gives us Himself so that we can be transformed by His mercy and forgiveness. This is the goal of the Lenten pilgrimage – to be transformed. To experience greater intimacy with Him, as did Peter, James, and John on the mountain, and to let His light penetrate our fearful hearts.
As I got out of the pool and got ready for work I thought of the last mystery, the Institution of the Eucharist. Hmmm…probably the Lord wants me to think about this whole fasting thing. I thought back to my time in the Chapel last evening. The soft flickering of the sanctuary candle made the shadow of the Cross bob up and down. Even though the light was coming from the right side of the Chapel where the Tabernacle kept vigil in silence, it seemed to cast its rays onto the center of the sanctuary where the Jesus hung on the Cross on the back wall. This was the answer to my question last night. Jesus already suffered for my sins. Was I trying to do it on my own? Was I denying that Jesus’ Passion and Death was enough for me? Was I telling Jesus that I had to suffer in a prescribed manner in order to be worthy?
This morning I welcomed again the graces I received yesterday, when He spoke truth to my heart. I was angry at myself for not suffering enough, especially compared to others. Underneath that was another question: am I enough Lord?…am I doing enough and suffering enough for you? If I had given up that power bar, it would have made me feel a little better about myself, as if I had “done” something for Him, and maybe even prevented the body image thoughts that were penetrating my time of prayer. But this was not of God! Jesus was asking me to sacrifice in another way; I was poor in spirit by obediently following my doctor’s orders and by nourishing my body that I have in the past denied–not out of a call to fast but out of fear of not being enough. This gave me the peace my heart desired; I knew this thought was from the Lord.
I begin this Lent with another kind of fasting. Yes, I am fasting, but not in the way most people are fasting. I am fasting from my will, from my passions, from my securities. I am becoming poor in spirit and accepting the Will of God. Yes, I will probably face feelings of guilt and shame about my body, especially around others who are fasting “more.” But what a perfect time to bring these lies to the Lord. I journey with Him in the desert this Lent and I choose Him over the lies and temptations of the evil one. I am not alone. He is with me, He is in my poverty, He comes to me in my brokenness, and He suffered and died for me.
My prayer is that all of you who read this are able to pray about your Lenten journey, that despite what others are doing for Lent, you recognize the places where the Lord is and is not calling you to focus. May our Lenten pilgrimage lead us to the Pierced Heart of Christ, the source of our salvation.