Late last week, we reached the midpoint of the Lenten season. Traditionally, we think of Lent as 40 days, but it’s actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. I took a moment yesterday morning to journal my experience of Lent this year at the halfway point—the “ides.” (In the Roman calendars, the “ides” was the midpoint of a month. I’m using it here for the midpoint of Lent.) Enough history lessons.
For those who are friends with me on Facebook, you might have seen my Lenten practices for this year:
- Abstaining from all alcohol (usually wine or beer with dinner).
- Abstaining from all video games (I have a few favorites I enjoy during downtime).
- No eating after 7:00pm (I am a notorious late-night snacker in front of the television).
- Daily exercise of at least 50 minutes (This was my one “engagement” practice alongside the other three which were disengagements).
What am I noticing at this halfway point of Lent?
I’ve felt a little of the halfway point acedia that I’ve found common in the middle of certain commitments or projects. I love starting new things. I get a lot of pleasure out of crossing the finish line. But I often get bored or disinterested about halfway through. I wrote a little about this in An Unhurried Life (p. 41-45). I described acedia as “a place of apathy toward life and a kind of spiritual boredom; it’s that umpteenth lap somewhere between the enthusiasm of the starting line and the celebration of the finish line.”
Daily exercise was sometimes challenging on a full day, but the newness of this dailiness inspired me. More recently, I’ve had to push through a lot more of what I would call “false desolation” to get going. (I’m using the word “desolation” as Ignatius of Loyola might to describe feelings or thoughts that are more self-focused, negative, discouraging, isolating, paralyzing or draining). False desolation comes in those thoughts or feelings that tell me “This thing I’m about to do will be too hard or draining” when, in fact, they are actually good things that I have freely chosen. I often push through that sort of negative anticipation to get out for a walk, or a cycle, or to drive to the YMCA. But, like many of you, I’m sure, it usually doesn’t take me too many minutes to realize just how false that feeling of desolation really is.
My three abstinence observances have closed off common escape routes I turn to when I’m anxious, fearful, bored or tired. Rather than resting or playing, I have often escaped into overeating or mindless amusements. The problem is that instead of becoming rested, peaceful or even energized, I find myself numbed and dry. Making this Lenten “pre-decision” to refrain from certain activities has meant that I’ve been pressed to different decisions than my common autopilot modes. That has proven very fruitful for me. I’ve sometimes had empty moments in my schedule that, instead of becoming filled with something empty (irony of ironies), they just stayed empty and I often was simply aware of God with me in no particular way. That has been a Lenten grace for me.
And though it wasn’t originally a Lenten practice, I soon began to watch what I was eating alongside when I was eating it. I ate differently because I seemed hungry for different things as a result of my exercise. I began to use a little iPhone app to track what and how much I was eating. So an unexpected fruit my practices has been a little more than 10 pounds of weight loss so far.
Finally, the disciplines that have taken shape now over that last 20-some days are beginning to bleed over into other areas of needed discipline. I’ve found, for example, that I’m doing a lot more writing than I had been doing before Lent began. I find more moments of creative focus in this place of greater discipline. That’s what happens when discipline is fruitful and not legalistic.
INTERACTION: We’d love to hear about your Lenten practices if you’d be willing to share them in the comments for this post. Let’s encourage one another.