I began this season of Lent with lofty goals – 30 additional minutes of Bible-reading per day, and a dietary-makeover along the lines of the Daniel Plan. (A whole-person health plan created by Pastor Rick Warren and friends – check it out.) I was cutting out all caffeine and sugar, as well as doing a 10 day dairy and gluten detox. The first couple of days I was pretty grumpy without my morning coffee, but I was really enjoying all the fresh fruit smoothies. The extra Bible reading was good too – I had interesting reading plans by Nicky Gumbel and Eugene Peterson. After one week I was going strong.
Suddenly everything else fell away when I had to rush to emergency with my seven-year-old. He had an allergic reaction at school and needed adrenaline, antihistamines and steroids. The first couple of hours were tense and gut-wrenching. When he was stable the doctors told me that Jude would need to stay in the hospital for 24-48 hours. After he finished work, my husband came to stay with Jude so I could run home and pack an overnight bag with some clothes and things to keep us occupied.
When I left the hospital I had been caffeine, sugar and dairy-free for seven days, but now I was in crisis. It had been a few hours since the ambulance ride, where I watched my son’s oxygen mask kick in and the injection of adrenaline subside. My fear had created a massive rush of adrenaline of my own, now I was crashing and fading. I was exhausted. I needed to keep it together and not only stay awake, but stay brave and strong for my seven-year-old who could’ve died that day. I wanted a coffee.
I had a quick decision to make – do I continue on my elimination diet, trying to stay gluten & dairy-free while eating at the hospital cafeteria for the next few days, I’m sure I could find some carrot sticks, or do I call it a good seven days and leave it for now? My weak will was certainly leaning toward scrapping the whole thing, at least for a coffee, but I prayed “God, please sustain me. Let me know what to do.” I sensed Him saying “set it aside.”
I wearily, intentionally and gratefully went to Timmy’s to get a latté. Okay, I had a couple of Timbits too. But I didn’t have 12. I didn’t scarf down a box of donuts or buy a dozen chocolate bars. I decided not to throw the baby away with the bathwater. ‘Cause I’ve done it before. I’ve been at this juncture – one slip up and I abandon the whole thing. I plan to exercise, then miss two days in a row. Ah well, might as well forget exercising at all. I promise to write in my journal every day. A few days go by and I toss the journal behind the bookshelf. Baby. Bathwater.
As I sipped on my coffee and thought about my decision to cease my detox and diet plan, I realized this had nothing to do with Lent. Yes, it was about God – I wanted to upgrade the temple He gave me and honour Him with my actions. But it wasn’t about Lent. The detox part was really about looking for hidden food allergies. Even the 30 minute Bible plan was something I committed to do for the month of March, starting four days before Lent. These changes to my behaviour were on the surface Lentish, they intersected and overlapped with Lent, but that’s not why I chose to do them. I didn’t spend time with God in prayer about what to do for Lent, I just did what I was going to do anyway. What was the point in being Pharisaical about my plans when they weren’t even God-ordained? Was I just cleaning the outside of the cup?
So I got my caffeine fix with a little less guilt, grateful for the setting aside. I even giggled a little when breakfast for my seven-year-old arrived in the morning, complete with a cup of coffee. (He was happy to let me have it. After a night on a lumpy cot with one eye open, I was happy for the kick start to the day.) The mostly sleepless night gave me ample time for prayer, and I had good Bible-reading time while Jude ate his breakfast.
But there was a nagging guilt, small, slightly tugging at the corners… why didn’t I trust that God would be my strength? Was I too quick to hear what I wanted from Him? Was my will so weak? Did I go to Him in prayer right away, or worry first? I pondered all these things, and brought them before the Lord, wondering if I had just “lost” Lent. But maybe I had just found Lent in this self-examination. Of all the traditional disciplines of Lent, self-examination has probably been the hardest for me to embrace.
So now, as Jude and I are back at home, and I know that whatever I do or don’t do for Lent, I do it for God and with God. So I am spending time getting to know myself, asking myself the hard questions about my faith, my fears. And as I patiently, coaxingly wait for the answers, I am thankful that in almost losing Lent, God is helping me to find myself.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Matthew 23.25-26
"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11.9-10