Last year, I gave up Lent for Lent. I had just been hired and we were driving across the country. My grandfather had just died, my husband's father was critically ill, and we were facing two weeks of driving cross country in a VW Beetle with two cats who'd never traveled more than an hour without throwing up.
Yeah, I thought you'd give me a pass for Lent.
During Lent, it's a common practice to give up. I gave up giving up candy years ago, because Lent seems to be the only time during the year that one can get Cadbury creme eggs. Those are my favorite candy ever and I refuse to give them up. In fact, I always take ON the discipline of eating Cadbury creme eggs. I wait until Lent, and I eat my last one on Easter, and I delight in them.
My favorite Lenten discipline ever was the year I gave up hot lunch. I was living in England at the time. The climate is cool and rainy, and usually, I'd just want something warm and noodly for meals. Giving it up meant I ate a lot of salads and cold sandwiches. If I was traveling, it was really hard to find fast food that wasn't heated. If I was around town, I'd ask police officers or people selling the Big Issue where to go for a cheap bite since cold food was usually cheaper than hot meals. I found some great small sandwich shops like the amazing baguette place near the Bath abbey. But more importantly, I found this strange sense of solidarity with those who couldn't spend their afternoon in a tea shop... this discipline really forced me to re-think priorities and to be more considerate of those struggling to make the ends meet.
My worst Lenten discipline was the year I tried to give up flour. Not knowing anything about nutrition or low-carb eating, it was disastrous. By the third day, I was shedding tears in the dining hall and dreaming about pasta. That one was totally self-centered and didn't last. Lenten disciplines that are all about ME seem to be failures.
The longest-lasting one started when I was 14 and went vegetarian for Lent. I didn't eat meat regularly again until I was 32. I finally began eating meat again because a year of night shifts and oddball schedules had depleted my iron, calcium, and B-vitamin levels in my system, and I needed to build it back up. I find, now that my iron is back to normal, that I am gravitating back towards vegetarianism once again.
This year, I am going to do both a giving up and a taking on. Lenten practices can really be both. Some people choose one or the other.
First, I'm going to be doing a tech fast. I have an app called SelfControl. I do realize the irony of using a tech app to help me do a tech fast, so let's roll with it. It blocks websites from access, quite thoroughly. There seems to be no easy way to shut it down once you start it. So I'll be blocking Facebook, blogs, news, and all other social networking sites. My allowed website will be Netflix because I must find out what happens to Daisy on Downton Abbey. I'm only in season one! I chose the tech fast because I can get way too caught up in checking status updates and feeling the urge to post something witty and smart. I enjoy social media for letting me keep caught up with people in my life... but I don't like feeling addicted to it, as if I will miss something essential if I am off it for an hour. The tech fast will last every day from 6PM to 9AM. This will allow me to use Facebook for work reasons (which is why I got it initially!).
Second, I'm going to be doing a whole foods discipline. As a triathlete, processed food bars are an easy trap to fall into- Clif bar, Honey Stinger Waffle deliciousness, balance bars... these are all good things which help us a lot. I need the hit of carbs and protein to sustain long rides. Sometimes, the balance bar is the least of the two evils. But the reality is that usually I'm choosing the S'mores bar because it is delicious and because making oatmeal with fruit is less exciting. (And quite frankly, because often I get sucked into checking Facebook when I should be cooking healthy food!) In England, when I hit an easy and comfortable weight, I was eating entirely whole foods with no processed bars at all. In fact, then, my meals were typically things like a pepper stuffed with a simple rice-and-veg mixture, or a salad and a sandwich. Now, I weigh about 20 pounds over what I weighed then. This negatively affects everything from my health to my speed, and it's time I stop letting myself fall into the processed trap. For Lent, I will be measuring out portion sizes and eating whole foods. I will only allow processed bars immediately prior to and during a major workout like a duathlon or a two-hour bike ride. This is not a weight loss challenge (which is why I'm allowing it as a Lenten practice. Although, hey, body, dropping those stubborn pounds would be a nice Easter treat...), but it's to be a challenge to accept real food as the nourishment I need and to be grateful and aware of the gifts I do have in my fridge.
So that's my Lenten practices this year. They start tomorrow. Or in 30 minutes, by my clock. What are you doing for your practices?