Lent in the age of excess

Jenny Uebbing

As much as I loathe the trend of turning the penitential season into a social media campaign, and as obnoxious as hashtags can be, I still find myself 2 days out from Ash Wednesday wondering if maybe a little virtual peer pressure might be just what I need this year.

I have a decidedly first world problem, and it's mostly to do with food, but also to do with leisure time and belongings and disposable income and wifi connectivity. The unifying theme? I have too much of it. All of it.

Food, in particular, is my Achilles heel. In varying ages and stages past, I've struggled by turns to rule my appetite and, having failed in the struggle, I've allowed it to rule me.

In adolescence I would have sworn up and down that it was I who called the shots, but in the throes of an eating disorder that stretched well into the college years, I was blind to the harder truth that I was, in reality, every bit a captive to the rigid rules and cravings and triggers that dictated my daily life.

When I got pregnant with my first child the month after my wedding, no sooner had the test turned up positive then I was happily filling the freezer with ice cream, delighted both by the impending glory of motherhood and the freedom to eat carbs again. I gained an ungodly amount of weight that, surprisingly, did not simply melt away under the efficient assault of non-stop nursing and never sleeping ever again. So odd. So ... disappointing.

So realistic.

I tried between each pregnancy to regain some semblance of my "normal" body, but around the time my old jeans start fitting, that pink line shows up again.

Which is a huge blessing! Don't get me wrong. But, it's becoming increasingly obvious that pregnancy, for me, is not a temporary blip on the radar screen of real life. The kids are going to keep coming, so long as we discern we are in a position to welcome them, (or, more to the point, so long as we discern the absence of a grave reason which would prevent their coming) and so I need to adjust my lifestyle to better reflect reality.

And the reality is, if I put away pints and pints of the finest gelato American dollars can buy, I'm going to be enormous at 40 weeks. And after three repeat performances, I can confidently report that those lb's don't actually melt away once one exits hotel hospital.

There's something else though, and it's not just about excess weight gain and late night visits to the freezer section: when I remove any semblance of discipline from the dietary realm, I stumble and atrophy in other areas of my life.

It's hard to say no to oneself, which is, in part, a large reason for the existence of Lent. It's an annual dose of concupiscence-be-gone; a chance to recalibrate, to dissolve unhealthy attachments and form better practices, to hone more heavenly habits.

So while it's terribly cliche to give up entire food groups and call it one's penance (I'm looking at you, Eastern Church), I'm going to go ahead and push the reset button on this pregnancy, here on the precipice of 15 weeks, and hope that by making better choices in the kitchen, I might be strengthened to grow and stretch in other areas of my life, too.

Plus, I'm straight up exhausted from all the carbs and sugar.

So thus begins the countdown to Lent:Whole40.

Terrible, right? I know it is ... and yet I have such hope that eating in a way that is so utterly penitential and unappealing to me, particularly when I'm in a family way, will open up spaces in my day and in my mind for Him. And that while I'm saying not my will over and over again, all day long, from the moment my feet hit the floor and I start dreaming about depressing the lever on the toaster till the moment I collapse onto the couch after bedtime stories, jonesing for Ben and Jerry, I'll be gaining some sorely needed self mastery, if not a more reasonable number on the scale come delivery day.

I could have chosen other vices to exorcise this season, believe me. God knows I could spend less time on social media, that I could be more committed to daily mental prayer and staying on top of the laundry than I am to answering text messages and emails. But this feels most fundamental, and most essential to bringing order in the rest of my life as a result.

I'm pretty much counting on it. Because there's a laundry list of a dozen other character flaws, shortcomings and patterns of sin to examine, but I'm too lethargic from the half tub of Trader Joe's chocolate cat cookies (that aren't even good, by the way) consumed during tonight's viewing of Downton Abbey to commit them all to paper. And wise enough to know that at Lent, sometimes less is more.

Happiest, fattest Tuesday to you all this week, and may your sacrifice choose you this year, and may you know it when you see it.

Topics: Food , Health , Liturgical Year , Nutrition

Jenny Uebbing is the content director of our marriage and family life channel, where her blog Mama Needs Coffee will be permanently hosted. She lives in Denver, CO with her family, where she writes and speaks on Church teachings on marriage, contraception, NFP and bioethics.

View all articles by Jenny Uebbing

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