I was never one to observe lent* until 3 years ago, when I realized the richness of choosing to intentionally prepare for the Easter celebration. I realized I could take advantage of this designated time to reflect on life habits that were making my heart noisy and find some quiet to contemplate and rest in a sense of God awareness in my day to day life. For the last 3 years, I have done this through a media fast. This year I decided to do something related to food, so I took the plunge and committed to doing whole 30 over the lent season! I love my food so I knew this would be my most challenging lent. I even tried to get out of this commitment, but thankfully I had chosen to do it with a friend who would not let me back out before I started. So here are my top 5 musings about my whole 30 Lenten adventure:
- Finding vitality
My body felt great! This was surprising because I did not have high expectations for any significant bodily change and also because I was more keen to see how my food habits reflected noise in my heart. The most noticeable change for me was my energy levels. I am a one-pot-a-day coffee drinker and have been for a few years. With no dairy in this meal plan, (and no real desire to hunt down non-dairy substitute options) I resorted to taking black coffee. I liked it but after drinking black coffee every day for 2 weeks I was tired of the taste. I just wanted my milk back! I noticed that my one pot turned into one cup per day and there was no effect on my energy levels. Next, one cup turned into no coffee and no change in my energy levels. I have been astounded by how well I am functioning especially considering that I have not had any sugar in the last 30 days. In the not so recent past, I have been heard often denouncing any attempt to improve health by cutting out coffee (or caffeine in general) from any diet, but now I find myself now free from its hold. Free to enjoy a cup of coffee or skip it. This simple shift of physical energy reminded me of the one who upholds us in every way. Yet it is so easy to lean on a caffeine like crutch in my spiritual and emotional journey through day to day life. Over the last couple of weeks, I had the chance to think about Isaiah 41:10: So, do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Our God strengthens and upholds us yet so often I am looking for sources of strength elsewhere. I am leaning on other things to uphold me. In my new-found coffee freedom, I hope to recognize where my search-for -strength habits have gone unexamined. I hope to see where I tend to want more of something when in fact my savior is more than enough.
- Finding abundance
T.H.E F.O.O.D P.R.E.P….
I knew I would need to put in a lot more thought to my food prep routine because a lot of my go to dishes were not whole 30 compliant. I was thankful I already had a food prep routine but with Whole 30 I still had my work cut out for me. There could be no gaps in my plans otherwise I would end up having nothing whole 30 compliant to eat. This was stretchy and often exposed my tendency toward complaining and impatience. The reality was however, that there was never anything to complain about. I had food available and I liked everything I chose to eat. I got to see how trivial my heart can be. In the middle of abundance, it is easy to focus on what we perceive ourselves to lack. The meal planning took a longer time than it would have outside of whole 30 but in retrospect, even creating the time to dedicate to this process was a blessing.
- Finding Balance
I discovered the opportunity in the sometimes-lengthy food prep process to choose rest. I enjoy cooking. There is something about it I find cathartic. I can empty my mind of the days worries and just focus on cutting a squash or balancing the flavors in a dish. I can be spontaneous and creative or methodical and analytic. I can aim to do everything right yet still feel a little thrill of the unknown because every dish has a mind of its own. Over the course of whole 30, I spent more time in the kitchen and about a week into the program, I started to enjoy making this a priority even when other things were pressing. In addition, eating became a point of rest. I had become accustomed to eating on the go but with this meal plan, the food I made took more time to eat so I created more time to eat it and enjoyed the moments of rest provided by slowing down in this way. We all need to slow our quick paced lives often, and truly live a little more in our moments – whether it is focusing on the taste of a strawberry or giving thought to something weighing on the mind.
- Finding more compassion
I have been mindful of people who have dietary restrictions or preferences different from mine, but choosing to do Whole 30 definitely opened my eyes to aspects of it I had not really thought about. My biggest struggle with Whole 30 was social situations involving food. I hated turning down something someone recommended or worse still turning down something someone made. I often found myself hoping I had not offended anyone by my choices. I also struggled to find a way to explain my choices such that other people didn’t feel like their choices were being judged – the you-are-eating-healthy side eye. It was an interesting mile to walk in another’s shoes. I found myself thinking of how strong people are to choose to completely change their lifestyle to better their health. To face the criticism, the cravings, the extra time and energy required with unfading determination. People who choose to prioritize their health and do what they say. A few days after completing the whole 30 program, I am navigating what it looks like to make lifestyle changes in my eating habits and how to represent those without becoming a burden or carrying unnecessary guilt for how these choices are perceived.
5. Finding grace
Almost as soon as I started whole 30, I realized that hunger can be both a physical and emotional state. You can be hungry when your stomach is actually full. This was an interesting discovery. The whole 30 restrictions kept me from the random cookie or piece of candy when my more emotional hunger came on. I realized that when I didn’t have some of my comfort food options I struggled. This got to the heart of why I had chosen to do whole 30 for lent. There is a constant hunger or restlessness that is easy to miss with my one-cookie-here-and-there habit. There are often gaps in my heart that I don’t ponder instead I pacify and distract. Whole 30 made those more apparent. On whole 30, I handled some heart-gap days better than others. Some days I just went ahead and fed the heart-gap with all the fruit and nuts I had on hand – a healthier alternative but nonetheless a pacifier. This is still a work in progress but I began to realize how often I need to turn to God and let his grace wash over my heart.
Maybe food is not your struggle, but we all find ways to let our hearts stay noisy instead of listening in the sometimes restless quiet of the unpacified heart. May this Easter season be a start for you as it has been for me. A start in identifying the noise and quieting it. A start in sitting in that restless quiet and learning to be still. A start in confronting the sometimes-uglier parts of ourselves and opening them up to the abundant grace of our God. This God who came into our struggle when we were at our worst because of his own love for us. Take hold of him, and refuse to let go.