I’m frequently distracted. Broccoli may wallow in our microwave for hours. I’ve laid out my son’s small jeans for my older daughter to wear. I’ve come close to squirting antibiotics into the mouth of the child without the ear infection. Just last week, I swiped my credit card through the ID card scanner at my children’s preschool. The worst part is, I couldn’t figure out for a few minutes why the scanner kept flashing red and beeping at me.
Like many parents of young children, my plans change moment by moment. One child or the other spikes a fever or develops an ear infection. Or, a caregiver scheduled to be with our children gets sick.
A pleasure that’s convenient
That brings me back to chocolate, which isn’t contingent on much of anything. As long as I have Wilbur buds or Hershey kisses around, I can fit a sweet indulgence into even the most chaotic day. And, it is for this reason—that chocolate is an achievable pleasure—that I’ve decided to give it up for Lent. I realize I’ve come to rely on chocolate as a mid-day pick-me-up or stress reliever when I’ve hit a glitch in a writing project or right after the kids have settled down for nap/rest time. Semi-sweet chocolate’s velvety texture, its minor jolt of caffeine, and my responsive endorphins light up my pleasure sensors for a brief respite and escape.
Yet, I’m surprised that giving up chocolate has been much easier in some ways than I anticipated. It’s easier, for instance, than practicing moderation. I can’t stop myself after nibbling on just one small square of 70% cacao, like many experts urge, in order to reap dark chocolate’s considerable health benefits. Then again, I don’t chow down on chocolate for its health benefits. I crave it viscerally.
Cravings as invitation
This Lent, when I crave chocolate, I’m trying to tune into the longing, to listen to its cavernous call. The craving reminds me why I’m participating in Lent. I think about the desires and loves that consume my soul, body, mind, and spirit. What would it be like to love Christ – not just with mind and spirit – but in a visceral, total-person way?
Unlike so many brothers and sisters in this country and throughout the world, I am not forced to delay nourishment or gratification because of scarcity. This Lent, I’m sobered and saddened by that thought. I’m humbled. My craving is a choice. For many, hunger is not. How shall I live in response?
“On Ash Wednesday, as the sign of the cross is placed on our foreheads in soot, we are reminded of our mortality. We are reminded that no amount of wealth or resources can make us invincible. As we starve ourselves of our need for “things,” God will fill us with our true need: relationship with the Divine.”
One of our family’s dear friends, who is a teacher, laments the lack of longing he sees in the classroom. He reports, with Google searches, technology and social media, many students have “access to everything, interest in nothing.”
I don’t want to be that kind of Christian – with God-given access to everything, interest in nothing. But if I don’t allow space for longing for God, for hungering and thirsting for Christ, can I ever experience the full grace of being satisfied?
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all of the things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33
The gift of need
This lent, I’m listening for the emptiness and brokenness in my own life and in the lives of friends, family, and others. I’m trying to hear these spaces as an invitation to greater intimacy and vulnerability with one another and with God. Without cracks and emptiness, we are diminished; we have no need. The pulse of faith grows weak. (Check out metaphysical poet George Herbert’s amazing poem “The Pulley” related to this theme.)
Yesterday, I returned to the rhythms of breathing. As we began yoga class, the instructor invited us to visualize something we intended to release as we exhaled and to breathe in something we wanted draw into ourselves as we inhaled. I thought about releasing anxiety and breathing in Christ and his love.
The rhythm of emptying and filling is vital to every cell in our body. Our lungs must exhale carbon dioxide before filling with oxygen-rich air. Without emptying our lungs, carbon dioxide would collect and become toxic in our bodies. The process of emptying ourselves may carry negative connotations, but it also keeps us alive.
This past Sunday, I visited my parents’ church, and listened to Adam Forry preach on a paradox – Is grace too free? He reminded us of Paul’s question: “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase? By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2) To do so would miss the point. We love Christ and are baptized into his death and resurrection. We die to sin in order to turn toward Christ in love and open our hearts to receive grace, to receive new life. Adam Forrey gave the following illustration: Think of children rushing downstairs on Christmas morning. Now, imagine what would happen if their arms were too full of old stuff to receive any new gifts. Sometimes our lives are too full for grace.
Our cravings are arrows to grace
I often approach God with a full heart and mind and schedule. I envision grace, without realizing it, as a gift that tops off my life, like non-dairy whipped cream, something partially hydrogenated that puffs up to fill in the cracks. Nothing obtrusive, you understand, but something that smoothes out the bumps. I often stumble over the truth that grace is a free gift from the consuming love of my life.
This Lent, even though I’m giving up chocolate, I’m also trying to shed some hackneyed views about grace, to allow a healthy emptiness to set in, to not rush to fill it with other sweet things.
Is it possible that I could one day learn to love even my need?
As I write this, I’m snacking on a homemade trail mix that’s just peanuts and raisins. It’s pretty lackluster without chocolate. And I admit it: I’m not satisfied. I’m still craving.
Cravings are arrows pointing us to attentiveness. In even these small cracks of longing, we begin to open ourselves to an emptiness that echoes with potential for grace.
Exhale. Breathe. Receive.
I return to a passage from Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter:
“Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart’s deepest longing: unity with Christ. In Him — in His suffering and death, His resurrection and triumph — we find our truest joy.”
Note: No chocolate was consumed in the making of this blog (much to my watering mouth’s dismay).