Some Thoughts on Lent

Although I don’t come from a Catholic or Orthodox background, after years of watching my mom faithfully practice Lent, I started to as well.  I have come to appreciate how much more joyful Easter becomes when practiced with intention, and also with fasting.

Usually I give up sugar, but this year, while the thought was still in my head, I felt the nudging of the Holy Spirit that Facebook should go too. And online shopping…

I pushed hard back, because I’m nursing a baby and taking care of a 3-year-old, and there’s only so much Paw Patrol a girl can take. (Where does this weird child-billionaire get all of this money to build cars for his dogs??) My phone was my saviour! (And as I type that, I see the problem…)

But that quiet push was still there, and I knew I had to do it. Here’s what I learned:

Sugar:

This was a hard break up. (Don’t think I am on a high horse… lots of lax rules about things like ketchup and sauce were used.) I keenly realized that I have an emotional attachment to sugar, especially late at night. When I was working, I craved it while I was up late writing reports, because I felt sorry for myself. Basically, salving one unhealthy habit with another, and not dealing with the root of the problem: unsustainable work habits!

I also became aware that what they say about sugar is true: once you have some, the ‘instant fix’ in your dopamine receptors makes you want more. I was feeling out of control, and waiting for a reason to stop.

Interestingly, I didn’t find it that hard to quit sugar when I had a faith-based reason in place, but couldn’t find any worthwhile reason to quit earlier.

And then at the end of Lent, came this shocking analogy of sin: For the past 46 days, we had a box of Pot of Gold chocolates in the house. I hid them in the cupboard on Ash Wednesday, but my husband kept taking them out and leaving them on the counter. Not nearly as addicted to sugar as myself, this box kept appearing all through Lent (I would have finished it in 3 days tops, if it was up to me!) On Easter morning I told him that I was going to break my fast and have one with my coffee. I was excited! He told me they were ‘gross.’ I took a bite and discovered he was right… they tasted cheap and musty. I thought about throwing the other half out and how empowering that would be, but dang it, I had EARNED this chocolate, and looked forward to it for so long! I ate the other half. It was still gross. I was disappointed and wished I’d waited for something of truly great quality.

Isn’t that just like sin? We want it, and want it and want it, and think it will satisfy, and then we taste it, want to spit it out, but can’t? We are left with disappointment and regret.

Online Shopping:

Somehow, all of my email accounts had filled up with marketing emails. (I say “somehow” but it’s because I signed up for all of them to get subscriber discounts…) I’d like to say that I wasn’t swayed to visit the sites, but I am a chronic buyer (and returner) of clothes. (I seriously can’t believe Old Navy hasn’t blacklisted me yet, because I must make their free return policy not worthwhile.) But the commercial ‘noise’ in my inbox, was becoming overwhelming. I spent Ash Wednesday clicking ‘unsubscribe’ each time a new email came in.

Surprisingly, online shopping was what I missed the least. And importantly, I learned that those feelings of want, and need, and having new things was actually really easy to shut off. I just had to turn away from the noise. The clamour of commercialism was still there when I returned. I had missed nothing. Contrary to what the emails would have me believe, there were still sales! Literally every weekend!

Facebook:

You, my social media friend, are what I missed the most. But as with the email marketing, the noise, noise, noise, had been really getting to me. I felt like so many people’s opinions were always shouting at me, and that opinions tended to be highly polarized and reactionary. Not only did removing myself turn down the noise, it left a lot of space (often uncomfortable space) to think, pray, read and journal. But lest you think I did a great job of that, I also learned that I will do almost anything, (including watch Paw Patrol) before earnestly praying and journaling.

Referring to the passage in Mark 1, where Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness, Ronald Rolheiser writes:

“For us, Satan and wild animals refer particularly to the chaos inside of us that normally we either deny or simply refuse to face: our paranoia, our anger, our jealousies, our distance from others, our fantasies, our grandiosity, our addictions, our unresolved hurts, our sexual complexity, our incapacity to really pray, our faith doubts, and our dark secrets.

The normal “food” that we eat (distractions, busyness, entertainment, ordinary life) works to shield us from the deeper chaos that lurks beneath the surface of our lives.

Lent invites us to stop eating, so to speak, whatever protects us from having to face the desert that is inside of us. In invites us to feel our smallness, to feel our vulnerability, to feel our fears, and to be open ourselves to the chaos of the desert so that we can finally give the angels a chance to feed us.” (God for Us, xiii)”

This has been the most productive Lent I’ve ever had, in terms of spiritual fulfillment. I’m not really sure what has brought about the change, but the thought sticks with me that perhaps Lent (and the pursuit of God in general) gets better with practice.  I’ve tried Lent a bunch of different ways over the years. Earlier on, I found that while I could stick to giving something up, the practice lost its meaning as the weeks went by, and I didn’t gain any of the spiritual closeness I was desiring. In reaction to this, I tried my own version of a Lent of ‘addition’, where I would commit to praying and reading my Bible every day and try not to break the habit for 40 days. Regardless of how you try Lent, or any sort of spiritual fasting, I would encourage you to just try it and stick with it. There are many examples of fasting throughout the Bible (Matthew 4, Luke 2:37, Acts 13:2 are just a few), and if even Jesus felt the need to fast, then we will also benefit from following his example.

Ultimately, I think what I’ve learned (so far!) about fasting with purpose is this:

  1. Pray beforehand, and be open about the ‘plan’ (ex. what you are fasting from, length of time, purpose, etc.) Listen for direction from the Holy Spirit.
  2. Pick a reading guide to help you along the way. (I found it motivating to have a book to finish, and could see the progress of Lent along the way.)
  3. Do a bit of writing in a journal to help you really solidify and internalize what you’re learning/hearing along the way. (Otherwise you’ll forget!)

Most importantly, eagerly wait on what the Lord will reveal to you, and expect that He will meet you in a personal and profound way! Jeremiah 29:12-14 promises:

Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore you…”

Call, pray, seek with your whole heart. God is waiting to restore you!

About the author : Sarah Bonikowsky

Sarah Bonikowsky Chaudhery is a 2008 Olympian (women’s eight, 4th) as well as a world cup silver and bronze medalist, Pan Am Games bronze medalist (women’s pair) and a two-time National Champion. She is also passionate about her bikes, and has competed in both mountain biking and as a tandem pilot in paracycling. After retiring from the Canadian National Rowing Team in 2012, Sarah married Joe Chaudhery. They live in a small town north of the GTA, with Zoë (born in 2016) and Zachary (2019). Sarah now practices as a paediatric occupational therapist, helping kids reach their full potential by maximizing their abilities at home and school.

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