Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lent in the age of excess

As much as I loathe the trend of turning the penitential season into a social media campaign, and as obnoxious as hashtags can be, I still find myself 2 days out from Ash Wednesday wondering if maybe a little virtual peer pressure might be just what I need this year.

I have a decidedly first world problem, and it's mostly to do with food, but also to do with leisure time and belongings and disposable income and wifi connectivity. The unifying theme? I have too much of it. All of it.

Food, in particular, is my Achilles heel. In varying ages and stages past, I've struggled by turns to rule my appetite and, having failed in the struggle, to let it rule me.

In adolescence I would have sworn up and down that it was I who called the shots, but in the throes of an eating disorder that stretched well into the college years, I was blind to the harder truth that I was, in reality, every bit a captive to the rigid rules and cravings and triggers that dictated my daily life.

When I got pregnant with my first child the month after my wedding, no sooner had the test turned up positive then I was happily filling the freezer with ice cream, delighted both by the impending glory of motherhood and the freedom to eat carbs again. I gained an ungodly amount of weight that, surprisingly, did not simply melt away under the efficient assault of non-stop nursing and never sleeping ever again. So odd. So ... disappointing.

So realistic.

I tried between each pregnancy to regain some semblance of my "normal" body, but around the time my old jeans start fitting, that pink line shows up again.

Which is a huge blessing! Don't get me wrong. But, it's becoming increasingly obvious that pregnancy, for me, is not a temporary blip on the radar screen of real life. The kids are going to keep coming, so long as we discern we are in a position to welcome them, (or, more to the point, so long as we discern the absence of a grave reason which would prevent their coming) and so I need to adjust my lifestyle to better reflect reality.

And the reality is, if I put away pints and pints of the finest gelato American dollars can buy, I'm going to be enormous at 40 weeks. And after three repeat performances, I can confidently report that those lb's don't actually melt away once one exits hotel hospital.

There's something else though, and it's not just about excess weight gain and late night visits to the freezer section: when I remove any semblance of discipline from the dietary realm, I stumble and atrophy in other areas of my life.

It's hard to say no to oneself, which is, in part, a large reason for the existence of Lent. It's an annual dose of concupiscence-be-gone; a chance to recalibrate, to dissolve unhealthy attachments and form better practices, to hone more heavenly habits.

So while it's terribly cliche to give up entire food groups and call it one's penance (I'm looking at you, Eastern Church), I'm going to go ahead and push the reset button on this pregnancy, here on the precipice of 15 weeks, and hope that by making better choices in the kitchen, I might be strengthened to grow and stretch in other areas of my life, too.

Plus, I'm straight up exhausted from all the carbs and sugar.

So thus begins the countdown to Lent:Whole40.

Terrible, right? I know it is ... and yet I have such hope that eating in a way that is so utterly penitential and unappealing to me, particularly when I'm in a family way, will open up spaces in my day and in my mind for Him. And that while I'm saying not my will over and over again, all day long, from the moment my feet hit the floor and I start dreaming about depressing the lever on the toaster till the moment I collapse onto the couch after bedtime stories, jonesing for Ben and Jerry, I'll be gaining some sorely needed self mastery, if not a more reasonable number on the scale come delivery day.

I could have chosen other vices to exorcise this season, believe me. God knows I could spend less time on social media, that I could be more committed to daily mental prayer and staying on top of the laundry than I am to answering text messages and emails. But this feels most fundamental, and most essential to bringing order in the rest of my life as a result.

I'm pretty much counting on it. Because there's a laundry list of a dozen other character flaws, shortcomings and patterns of sin to examine, but I'm too lethargic from the half tub of Trader Joe's chocolate cat cookies (that aren't even good, by the way) consumed during tonight's viewing of Downton Abbey to commit them all to paper. And wise enough to know that at Lent, sometimes less is more.

Happiest, fattest Tuesday to you all this week, and may your sacrifice choose you this year, and may you know it when you see it.


  1. I hear what you are saying. I think controlling fleshly desires like excess food, is a a great Lenten sacrifice. Best wishes to you. I too over indulged in 3 pregnancies. It's not worth it.

  2. I am doing a Lenten Whole40 also and would love to do a FB group or any kind of support set up. Right now I'm debating if Sundays are a flex day for me...

    1. Kelly at This Ain't The Lyceum has a Whole 30/Whole 40 facebook page for support. I think Sundays will mess up the intended purpose of the program, HOWEVER, as Catholics we feast on Sundays and not supposed to do I think I will eat cheese on those days. Everything in moderation, lol.

    2. Brigid, send me your email if you want to join my group!

    3. Kelly, somehow I missed that part of your Whole30 post! Emailing you now!

  3. I am with you, Jenny. At first I struggled with thinking if I should give UP something or take ON something, then I realized I am capable of both. I am doing this Whole 40 thing, too, so we can suffer together :-) Since I will probably be hungry, I will need a distraction, so I will have more time to volunteer and do good things, which I am supposed to do anyway. Double win! P.S. I gained 83 pounds with my first pregnancy, so I acutely feel your pain.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this! I was just doing some research last night on doing a whole 30/40 while pregnant. I'm 23 weeks with our fourth child and I'm struggling with the same thing. This would be a perfect thing to do for lent. Would love to be on some kind of support group as well. Did a whole 30 before I was pregnant and stopped halfway through. Think I was doing something wrong.

  5. Yeah! I was just working on my post talking about how I have chosen to do the Whole 30/40 for lent this year! Just like you I find myself continuing to have babies, and other things and need to take action to control my health. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in October, got pregnant with our 4th child in November and unfortunately experienced a miscarriage in early January. I am excited to try to start living a more healthy lifestyle for myself and for my family!

  6. You just about summed up my pregnancies and pp time- it is so hard for me to have any self control food-wise during those 9 months, esp. since they start off with morning sickness which pretty much makes any sort of pregnancy healthy eating plan obsolete! Good for you for going Whole40!

  7. I'm in the middle of a 28 day cleanse recommended by my chiropractor that is basically the Whole30, with a few extra "no" foods thrown in. I'm on a good track, so I'm also continuing it through Lent (even though my 28 days is up on the 23rd of this month. Good discipline. I'm in it with you!

  8. I agree, when I am more disciplined in one part of my life, the rest seems to follow suit. I need to remember that. And also still figure out what I am giving up/doing...

  9. I also had a complicated relationship with food in my teens and early twenties. I've always avoided any food-related sacrifices for Lent because it makes me anxious. But I REALLY want to end my sugar addiction before baby #3 comes in April (conveniently around Easter) so I'm doing a Whole40 for Lent this year too! Good luck!

  10. Way to go Jenny!! I started my whole30 on Feb 1st and at the time, Luke was like, "why don't you just wait for Lent? Do it then." But I couldn't wait, I was feeling so crappy physically I just didn't want to wait another day before doing something about my health. And it has been so so good, the discipline is NEEDED and does carry over to so many other areas of life....that I almost don't want to give it up. I'm almost afraid to go back! The benefits of this thing are too great! So I might just be dragging it out for all of Lent as well. I don't want to drift back into old ways again, when I am lazy about my food choices, I am lazy about everything!! Miss you girl!!

  11. Love this post. My husband and I will be giving this a go this year. I'm pretty scared because I have a tendency to getting light headed if I don't have my fill which makes for tough days, so praying I do this well enough to follow through and not stop mid-way. Prayers for your lenten journey!

  12. I don't think you need to apologize for what you choose to "give up." Or feel guilty, or feel like it's insufficient. Is not the point of "giving up" to have a tangible way to remember what He gave for us? We'll never match Christ's generosity.
    In the mean time, you are generously open to life. I don't have glowy happy pregnancies (I'm 3 weeks away from due date for #6 and I hate it - I'm thrilled about the baby - but pregnancy is SO HARD). You are giving Him your youth, your body, your very substance in a YES to life.
    When I lived in Colorado, I was blessed to attend a women's Opus Dei retreat each holy week at St. Malo (I haven't been able to make a retreat since moving to sad...I miss those times in the mountains!) and the priests from Chicago would come to lead our retreats. My first year, my confessor was Fr. Socias (who wrote the Handbook of Prayer) and he literally rocked my world. I had a new baby, a husband who was a FOCUS missionary and was therefore never around, and other very small children. I was so hard on myself in confession concerning personal penance and he reiterated to me over and over that motherhood, in its very essence, is fought with opportunities to lay down our lives for our friends. Starting with those little pink lines.
    I commend you for what you've chosen to give up this year! I'm sure that God will bless you for your efforts!

  13. This is a great post. It's so hard to say no to myself, when I'm pregnant and already feeling bad. Have you read The Anchoress's latest post about weight and food issues?

  14. Wow, that is so much more hardcore than I could ever be but go you! I hope it is going well.


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