Reflecting on reluctant self-denial the whole year through.
I've always been drawn to the practice of Lent. Giving up something you desire to increase your devotion and dependance on Christ seems like such a worthy ambition. I'm easily impressed by the friend who passes on dessert saying, "Oh, I gave up sugar for Lent." Or the person at a party who says "I'll just have water, I gave up drinking for Lent. I've already cheated a couple times, but I'm doing pretty good." Wow, good for you! Really! We are all too easily filled by these trivial things and to deny ourselves, even for a short time, is such a helpful practice. This year one of my daughters gave up fart jokes for Lent. I call that a Lenten Miracle!
I felt a bit different about Lent this year. I confess that when I heard these "I'm giving up ____" comments I've had a few snarky thoughts floating around in my head. You see the last year and a half in my life has been a constant practice of self-denial. My diet has become severely limited. Severely. Not by choice, not because I am trying to lose weight or because I think it's the hip thing to do. Believe me, I really think pizza is hip. Punch pizza ranks at the top of my most-craved list. I have been eating a very restricted diet to try to make a dent in my frequent migraines.
Basically, if it doesn't come from a free-range chicken, a grass-fed cow, an organic garden or a coconut tree, I can't eat it. I can't eat gluten (or grains of any kind like rice), dairy, soy, corn, potatoes, sugar, etc. So because of this year and a half of denial, those snarky comments in my head sound something like this, "Oh wow, I feel so bad for you! You aren't eating ice cream for six whole weeks? But you've cheated twice already? Wow. That must be so hard for you!" Clearly my heart is not in the right place.
But that choosing part does seem to matter. When someone chooses self-denial, like during Lent, it feels like they earn some kind of spiritual extra credit. As if they get some bonus gold stars on their Heaven chart because of those few years they did "pretty good" during Lent. However, I didn’t choose this self-denial, it's necessary for my survival.
That necessity makes it easy to disconnect it from the spiritual. And that could be true, if I let it be. We don't have a choice about some of the limitations in our lives, but we do have a choice about how we respond to them. So the morning I wake with a horrible migraine, can just be something I have to muscle through. Or I can let it be a reminder of my constant dependance on him. I can let it push me deeper into his arms.
It's time for a pity party
It’s very easy to fall into self-pity and get crabby about it all. It's such an inconvenience. It's lots of extra grocery shopping, constant prep, cooking and cleaning up. I feel like a killjoy at social functions, eating out is hard and traveling is the pits. But I think the most difficult thing is that there's no end in sight. Literally no end. I can’t cheat. This will not change. I'm living in Lent. There's no Easter Sunday celebration where I’ll get to indulge in the things I’ve been denying myself. It feels like such a burden. So this is when I must remind myself that feelings are not always the same as truth.
This burden is a blessing
It might feel like a burden, but I have to remember where I was when this "burden" was given to me. I was in the deepest, darkest part of my valley of 15 years of chronic pain and suffering with migraines. My life sucked, big time. But the sustaining love of God pursued me in those darkest days. And after 15 years of pleading and begging and banging on his door, he answered. Not in the way I was hoping, but he answered. He revealed that I had massive food allergies. I was hoping for a more “supernatural” one-and-done healing. But that's not what I got, so I began this journey of healing through food and my migraines slowly (very slowly) started to get better.
I got to have this big, amazing, loving gift wrapped up in a burden. I’m not the only one on the planet living with chronic pain. And I'm not the only one forced to deny themselves something for a bigger purpose. Parents give up activities or careers they love because of raising young children. Alcoholics make a decision to never drink again because of a devotion to their families and to be the person God created them to truly be. And it seems aging is a constant process of taking away the things you once loved to do.
Walking with the shepherd
So as we all follow whatever path our Shepherd has put before us each day, I'm hoping that we can celebrate His goodness and love. Goodness and love, whether that path is through green pastures or dark valleys.
Now the Lenten season is over, but I continue on living in Lent. I'm praying that I won't lose heart. I'm telling those snarky comments in my mind who's boss around here. I'm reminding myself that feelings aren't always truth and it's time to stop feeling sorry for myself. I'm trying to remember that this burden is really a great big, amazing gift. That celebrating Easter Sunday is about Jesus, not what you are eating. And I'm longing for that final Easter Sunday when Jesus will make all things new.
My Good Shepherd really does know exactly what I need even before I ask him. Deuteronomy tells me that he is the God who rides across the heavens to help me, that the eternal God is my refuge, and that he is holding me in his everlasting arms. And that tastes way better to me than a piece of Punch pizza any day.