Giving up beloved treats for Lent has never worked out well for me. Two years ago I tried to give up cheese. That lasted about 2.4 hours. Not days. Hours. Self-imposed fasts make me pissy, regardless of their spiritual significance. Whenever I go on a diet I feel utterly and immediately deprived and tend to rebel by pigging out on the nearest high fat, high calorie foodstuff. So, fasting for Lent? Not really my strong suit.
This year I decided that I would give up something that would help me out in the long run. After several weeks of rumination, I decided that this year I would fast from sloth. I freely admit to being a horribly lazy person. I am also highly adept at procrastination. I am self-employed and I tend to work best under pressure, at the last moment. I am not a plan-ahead Type A personality. Nope. I’m a laid back, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-knickers, finish on a wing and a prayer, type of person.
Unfortunately, this kind of behavior has some pretty harsh repercussions. I often ignore projects or chores that are distasteful to me and so they go undone until I feel overwhelmed and crushed under the pressure to tackle them. For instance, I moved into my husband’s house in July (it’s now February), and I still have six (SIX!) boxes of various office supplies, old bills, papers, and files sitting on the floor of my office. I have had the best of intentions to unpack them but intentions only get you so far. They sit behind my computer chair and with each passing day, I feel their weight bearing down upon me, threatening to suffocate me.
I have a similar issue with bills. I hate tackling finances. Dealing with money makes me itchy and twitchy and depressed. It’s one of the few things that Liam and I argue about. I have this idea that, like a toddler who thinks that if he can’t see you, you can’t see him either, I can ignore my bills and they will just go away. I don’t have to pay them, they’ll just disappear. Right? Yeah, until the Internet service gets shut off because I conveniently ignored my bills long past their due date.
So instead of taking my usual afternoon nap (sometimes just a power nap, sometimes a long two-hour snuggle under the blankets like a mini-vacation from life), I am devoting one hour a day to something I don’t love. Each day I pick a project to tackle and I do so mindfully–whether it is devoting mind, body, and soul to cleaning a bathroom (my 12-year-old son now has a sparkling lavatory thanks to my efforts on Saturday) or prayerfully unpacking one of those weighty cardboard boxes.
So today I baked two loaves of banana bread with chocolate chips. Let me clarify, I hate to bake. I do. I have always loved cooking but cooking, for me, is an active endeavor. I rarely follow a recipe and when I do I always improvise. When I am cooking I am constantly doing something, stirring or tasting or seasoning or setting the table while something luscious bubbles on the stove. Baking, on the other hand, has to be precise. You can’t fudge the measurements. You can’t walk away and forget it like a stew that needs to simmer for several hours so that the tastes deepen and richen. You can’t cut corners and you must follow instructions.
Today I discovered an almost zen-like quality to baking. I prepared (I know, right?). I got out measuring spoons and cups and all of the bowls I would need and each ingredient. I laid open my tattered, tomato-sauce stained copy of Joy of Cooking and found a recipe to follow. I painstakingly measured ingredients and followed the instructions step-by-step. And afterward, with a timer set for precisely 60 minutes, I washed up immediately, leaving no trace of the mess that was made during my baking experiment. An hour later, I was rewarded with two perfect loaves of banana bread (with chocolate chips, because a girl has to improvise somewhere). They were warm and golden brown with just a touch of crustiness on top. The whole house was redolent with the smell of baked goodness and as I cut a slice to take to my mother-in-law I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride. The same sense I felt when I stood back from the bathroom on Saturday to admire the sparkling fixtures and clean floor covered by a just-washed bathmat.
They say it takes 21 days to develop a habit. My hope is that at the end of this Lenten fast, I will have more energy to tackle my work, my housework, and all of the other myriad projects I get myself involved in. I hope that I will open my bills when they come in and that I will pay them on time without resentment. I hope that my office will be clean and organized and I will be less reticent to take on the chores that need to be done rather than rolling my eyes at the dust and thinking, tomorrow…there’s always tomorrow. I hope that, after all this, I will be better prepared to love my God as I find grace even in the mundane.