On milkshakes and Jesus.

Sometime back in the fall, I started keeping track of how stressful a day was by how many mini-candybars I ate. I didn’t count them as I was eating, but I’d count the wrappers afterward. When Alisa and Dawn came to visit me at work, they brought candy, so I added it to my stash and kept up the habit. When I ran out (except for Almond Joy – there’s still some Almond Joy left), I went without candy until Katie sent me four bags of mini-candybars. I dug in.

Sure, I was a little worried about the amount of emotional eating I was doing. But I’d justify it in all kinds of ways. It got so that drawer was a crutch, and as soon as anything wasn’t going exactly how I hoped, I’d roll my chair back and pull out a few pieces of candy. When I was trying to think of something to give up for Lent, sweets were the only thing that came to mind, so, on Mardi Gras, I bid farwell to them for the duration. I have resisted doing that before, because that’s the traditional thing to give up for Lent, and I wanted to be more original in what I gave up. I also think it’s better to give up something and have something to replace it with, like the year I gave up listening to music in my car. I had more time for prayer and reflection because of that. Giving up food isn’t something that’s so easy to replace (or it’s way too easy to replace with other food), although my hope was that instead of turning to candy, I’d turn to Jesus.

If you’re not careful, giving something up for Lent can cause you to go through the same stages that I mentioned when I talked about not spending. In this case that meant: seeing chocolate everywhere, realizing my dependence on chocolate and coming to the point that I don’t need it any more, smugness about how holy I was, and now, finally, post-Lent, appreciating it in more moderation. I think that being smug is the biggest danger in celebrating Lent, which is why I usually try not to tell people unless it’s completely necessary, so as not to feed those self-satisfying feelings (of course, practicing Lent every year makes me feel a little less sure of my own self-importance and extra holiness, because I can see how I’ve had to depend on God to help me get through this period of fasting in the past). This “no telling” policy meant that I spent an afternoon with Melissa, Emily, and Alisa drinking water while they drank milkshakes. Made with fancy ice cream. And cookies. It actually wasn’t so bad. I watched them drink the delicious icecreamy goodness, and I thought a little bit about Jesus, and I thanked him for humbling himself by coming to earth and dying for our sins. That, though, isn’t a situation in which sweets are necessarily so tempting to me. On a normal day, I can easily say no to a milkshake or a plate of brownies or strawberry shortcake. On a normal day, I can think about whether I really want it. The real test is when I have a bad day. Those are the times that I tend to eat without being hungry, to eat just to fill some “need” inside myself. Sometimes I managed to pray and just drink water. Sometimes I ate fruit or other non-sweet foods and managed a smaller amount of prayer. And sometimes I just thought about sweets and felt sorry for myself. The last week of Lent was not a good one for me emotionally, and after a bad day at work, I had the following conversation with Mike:

KARI: I want a milkshake.

MIKE: This is why you gave up milkshakes, so that you could take this to Jesus.

KARI: Jesus does not make me feel better. Milkshakes make me feel better.

MIKE: Oooooookay. Well, that’s something you might want to think about.

Also eye-opening was the number of times my friends mentioned me in the same sentence as mini-candybars. I was known for being an emotional eater. It was expected of me. On one hand, that’s kind of humorous: “Let’s see how much chocolate Kari’s had today!” On the other, I’m not really doing anything about this dependence.

If I learned anything during this year’s Lent, it’s the extent to which I self-medicate with food (which I believe has gotten worse in recent years). There’s enjoying food (which I do), and there’s abusing it (which I am often very close to doing). I also learned a bit about how much I like being understood, because there were times that it was very difficult not to tell people about my “sacrifice.” As usual, I learned both more and different things than I expected about myself and my defenses. I’m actually glad I gave up sweets, because, you know, I had thought that it was the “traditional” thing to give up, so I hadn’t wanted to do it, but there are sweets all around us, all the time. It did give me ample opportunity to be more thoughtful and prayerful during Lent, which was the goal after all.

On Sunday, I came home, made shortcakes, cut up strawberries, got out the Cool Whip, and, yes, I did have strawberry shortcake for lunch. “It’s okay,” I told Mike, “Strawberries are a symbol of the resurrection.” “Really?” he said. “No. But they sure feel like it today.” And I’m not exaggerating when I say . . . I think it was the best strawberry shortcake I’ve ever had.

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    On milkshakes and Jesus. – Through a Glass, Darkly