It is that time of the year again –the Great and Holy Fast. Yes, that period when we are supposed to abstain from enticements of the flesh. No meat, no diary, no entertainments, no sex (YIKES!) St John Chrysostom states that we should not be enslaved to the stomach. But I suspect that Great Lent is more than curbing your eating habits, which does take a lot of discipline in any case; it is about realigning the human compass away from the earthly, the fleshy to the spiritual and the godly. It is a turning away from the things that are seen to the things that are not seen, as they are the more important.
Of course, we can go into this period begrudgingly and sigh and beat our breast, “Oh what I am giving up! Poor me-oh poor poor me—no cream in my coffee, no “gettin’ some” no going to the movies or some fancy party, no shows—for a fortnight. Non-Orthodox friends when they hear all we give up roll their eyes and shake their heads, “Hell no! I couldn’t do it for so long.”
While that could be the attitude I enter the period, with a morose sense of self-pity and self-flagellation, I am challenging myself to enter the season differently. I will go into the Great Lenten period not with the sense of what I am giving up but with what I am to receive (if I am worthy.) This is what I forget as a Christian. Yes, there is sacrifice, but with the sacrifice comes love. We are called to give up a lot no doubt, but in return we receive something, or rather someone, much greater. That someone is Christ. The tiny morsels we give up, the blips on the canvas of time or our meager works of charity, are returned in exponential measure by His Grace. You give up a dollop of cream cheese but in return you get Jesus. You give up an afternoon you would have spent at the movies to volunteer in the nursing home, but in return, you get Jesus. You give up sleep during the night, but in the morning you get Jesus. Jesus is so worth the tiny inconveniences in our schedule. Great Lent becomes an opportunity to put Christ first by emptying ourselves. By emptying myself, that “kenosis” the Spiritual Fathers talk about, I make more room for Jesus.
So, I have made a pledge with myself during this season to keep the temptations at bay by keeping this mindset. When I am tempted by a quarter pounder as I have not been able to find a snitch of vegan food all day and my stomach sounds like a wounded animal wild with hunger, I will think, “Do I choose a piece of meat or Jesus?” Is not Jesus worth all the Whoppers in the world? I will try to keep in mind, for every chocolate macaroon I give up or every cream cheese bagel, I will get back a little more of Jesus. In this light it is easy to give up what you think you can’t do without? And instead of looking at Lent as the cup 40 days empty, it will become at the end “the cup that spilleth over and over.”
I hope I will choose the better part because anyone who has tasted Jesus, the real Jesus even in a miniscule drop, knows the sweetness, the joy, the fullness of Christ. Hands down, the choice is simple; it’s the choosing that’s hard.