Despite writing eight years ago that Lent and I were through, I once again found myself abstaining from chocolate and coffee in the six weeks leading up to Easter. To be honest, I whinged my way through this Lenten season. It wasn’t because I found this form of pseudo-fasting particularly difficult but because I kept asking myself why I was even bothering. In declining offers of delicious sweets and coffee runs from kind colleagues, I’d grumble that I hadn’t figured out how to obtain any spiritual benefit from the practice.
Lent is meant to be a time of fasting, prayer and giving that draws us nearer to God. I have yet to experience greater spiritual intimacy through the practice of Lent. And still, I have been observing similar Lent fasts for the majority of the last decade. Why am I still doing this? Why do I keep coming back to it?
Over the Easter weekend, I broke my chocolate fast with a couple of Lindt Easter eggs. It was disappointing to be honest – the chocolate didn’t taste any sweeter for having been absent from my palate for the last 45 days. I broke my coffee fast with a small cup of Lebanese coffee, which gave me a headache that I had to sleep off with an afternoon nap. All in all, a pretty anti-climactic end to Lent for me this year.
So what was the point, really?
I felt frustrated that the inputs of fasting and prayer weren’t creating the desired outputs of spiritual intimacy or refreshment. I began to wonder if I needed to do a different type of fasting, if maybe I wasn’t praying “right”.
But perhaps in being so concerned with getting “spiritual benefit” from observing Lent, I was missing the point. It’s typical, isn’t it, of our society to care more about the finding than the seeking, the results more than the process?
At the end of the day, I suspect my regular return to Lent indicates a longing for liturgy. I like the idea of participating in a performative and meaningful tradition. My family has never had many of those. I like the idea of doing something for Jesus, not because he needs it, but simply as an offering – an expression of my desire to serve and honour him.
Maybe that’s enough: to know that I desire God, that even if the lack of chocolate and coffee does not prompt a hunger for God, I am nonetheless, still hungry for God.
Ironically, it is in penning this post, with the hindsight of the Lenten season behind me, that I see some meaning emerge. I had been feeling a little down – disconnected, unmotivated, emotionally spent – in the week or two prior to Good Friday. But this Easter long weekend has been social and joyful, with perfect weather, plenty of beach volleyball and hours on end playing my favourite video game (LAN parties are not dead). In a strange way, it kind of mirrors the low-to-high trajectory of the Easter story, of Gethsemane’s betrayal to the victory of the Resurrection.