I kept telling the pastors each week during Lent that it was the best desert season I’ve ever encountered! I have actively observed the traditional fast for a few years and this one moved me the most. It was amazing. Without going into specifics, my Lenten disciplines generally involved sacrificing various things—not so much adding more into my life. And it benefited me greatly. I was really freed up to relate to my friends and loved ones better mainly I eliminated a lot of the stuff that was blocking my path to them.
We often want to avoid each other because we are afraid of a conflict, or we don’t to relate to God because we are worried that we might lose our faith. There are lots of things that can block how we interact with God and each other. A lot of things can be that third corner in our emotional triangle. Cigarettes, alcohol, overeating, desserts (someone just told me “stressed” is “desserts” spell backward). Those are the obvious ones, but still there are others: community can be a way to avoid God, so can our school work, our jobs, other relationships, even our exercise routine. We use those mechanisms to avoid the conflict that we have in our relationships, but those of us that can go through the anxiety that we might experience outside of our triangles live better and relate better.
Go ahead and eliminate that thing that’s enabling you and see what happens. When I did, here’s what I learned.
1) Fasting hurts the most for the first week. The habits that I had sacrificed during this season hurt the most for the first week or so. I craved my coping mechanisms. I craved the avoidance they provided. I didn’t want to address the real things that might would actually improve the relationships that were causing me the most trouble. The only way out is through, and so when I came to close to the things causing my stress, my instinct was to regress and just say I could not do it. The suffering that one endures might feel like too much, but going through the first week or so will help—be reassured.
2) Indulging at a fast’s conclusion might not make sense. When all is said and done and the period of fasting over, we might lose all of the lessons we learned and just go back to our old ways. I remember several Lents in a row just going back to cigarettes after ditching them for forty days! I was so amped and ready to go too! One year, I bought pack at 5 a.m. on my way to the sunrise vigil. Going big on Fat Tuesday or big on Easter might defeat the purpose of the fast. It might be helpful to get rid of one thing that you can enjoy on Easter morning that won’t cause you any spiritual regression.
3) It’s OK if you suffer less and just feel better. I had a crisis in the middle of Lent. I was feeling great and renewed and energized. I was supposed to be suffering with Jesus in the desert, and it felt more like I found an oasis. At the conclusion of the journey, the good habits I formed were too helpful for me to just undue. I didn’t crave them in the same way. My life was so much better, I couldn’t go back to Egypt, so to speak.
Lent is a good excuse to fast. But just because it’s Eastertide doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to enjoy the benefits of making a healthy sacrifice today. Try and make a list of the things or people you might be creating triangles and see what God compels you to do. What does it look like to get rid of something that’s helping you cope with the stress in your life? It might seem painful at first, but by the end of the cycle, you might feel even better.