Nine year old Matthew commented yesterday that he wished he could give up winter for Lent. I can certainly sympathize with that feeling. His comment made me laugh but it also made me stop and consider the way I sometimes approach Lent. Lent is supposed to be a time of voluntary mortification but oh how many times has it devolved into finding the most pleasurable way to give up something?
The truth is mortification is not meant to be pleasant, it is meant to be hard. We don’t inflict pain or deprive ourselves of good things simply for the sake of suffering though, we do it to discipline and bring under control the things that hinder us in the life of grace. In that way mortification and suffering are not ends, they are means. Means to holiness and a better life.
I am about to start a Lenten fitness and weight loss challenge with a group of friends (some local, some online) and I have been thinking a lot of these things as I pray and prepare for Lent and this challenge. There is a temptation I have when trying to get healthy, to wonder if it’s not really a valid sacrifice but rather an exercise in vanity. While it might be a vanity issue in some cases, in most, I don’t believe it is. Personally my issues with weight and health are directly related to my tendencies towards selfishness and putting other things (food and pleasure) before God. That is the cold hard truth for me and I know it.
Facts are I am only getting older and I owe it to my family to be as healthy as I am able. I’m not talking “fitness model” healthy, I’m talking “middle aged woman reducing her risks of disease” healthy and getting there means that yes, I really do need to focus on these things and stop making excuses —especially ones that sound like “I won’t become holy if I focus on losing weight and getting fit”. Well I’m not holy now and I am overweight and unfit.
Romans 8:13 says that “. . .if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” A verse like that makes it easy to rationalize that we really shouldn’t even think about our bodies, but the truth is we are both body and soul and what we do in one affects the other. There is nothing wrong with trying to get healthy. There may in fact even be an obligation to it. One I feel like I have reached.
It won’t be easy, Saint Teresa of Avila wrote that God gives us the grace to overcome our disordered tendencies but that we must do the work. I intend to do the work but I also know how weak I am. If, by the grace of God (and I sincerely mean that), I do succeed, the results will be desirable and that’s a good thing. While that may seem obvious, the idea that something we sacrifice might then have a truly desirable result in the end can be a struggle for some. But that’s exactly what the cross is all about. Suffering not for its own sake but so that a greater good my result. Turns out that’s what the whole “giving up” for Lent thing is about too. Giving up something lesser for something greater so that what feels like privation, can in the end, lead us to an abundant life of grace.
Trust me, it’s all going to be worth it in the end.