“Those who ate of the fruit lost all desire to come back; the only thing that they wanted now was to stay with the Lotus-eaters and feed on the fruit and never go home again.”
The Odyssey – Homer
It must be the rarest person who goes through life without finding it hard to live without a passion or vice at some stage. These may even be things we don’t even realise; the glass of wine every evening, the irresistible snacks that are brought to the office, the endless hours of television or videogames, and of course the addiction to social media on our mobile phones.
Lent is a time where we surrender our passions for 40 days prior to Easter. It is a time to identify with the struggle of Jesus, however faintly that may be. Even as a Christian, I don’t think I had taken Lent seriously until this year. It was always a case previously of what shall I not have this year, just to have something to give up, rather than struggling without something.
It’s not the worst vice in the world, but I was certainly eating too much chocolate. Up to 3 chocolate bars a day, plus gorging on all the snacks that people bring into the office. Even last year, I never thought it would be possible to give up chocolate for lent, as it is an established part of my everyday life.
But this year I thought, ‘I’m going to give it a try’. I didn’t believe I would make it through the whole of Lent, but I’m happy now to say that I did. Yes, I gave up chocolate for 6 weeks. But that is the least important part.
Having a higher purpose
Just a few days into Lent and I had already suspected this was going to be something I could achieve. And it was not to do with willpower. The simple reason was that I had a reason bigger than myself for wanting to go without chocolate for 6 weeks. I did not want to disappoint Jesus, Christianity and my commitment to Lent.
If I did not believe in God, then I would not have been able to complete my commitment. There would have been no reason (yes, I know there are health reasons, but as I have discussed in a previous article, that is rarely a motivator for people even in dire circumstances).
Having a purpose higher than yourself, gives you the strength to complete any task or goal you set. What is more incredible, and this was the 2nd thing I learnt, is that I didn’t even find it that difficult. It was easy to say No. I had set a rule, and that was that, chocolate was off the table.
A life without rules
One of the reasons I suspect people struggle to diet, and remain committed to a diet, is that literally and metaphorically, everything is on the table. They don’t set rules to what they can and can’t eat. And I don’t believe limiting is enough. It has to be ‘No, I don’t eat that’. I rarely hear of a vegetarian who occasionally eats chicken. It’s off the table, a steadfast commitment.
One of the side effects of not eating chocolate over the last 6 weeks, is that I have lost about a stone (14 lb) in weight and it wasn’t even my intention. I have also gone down a couple of belt notches and achieved a flatter stomach etc. as well.
Now I don’t know if cutting chocolate out for a longer period would allow me to lose further weight, or if it would level out, but I find it amazing that just cutting out 1 thing in my diet, has made a big and immediate impact.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” – Philippians 1:21 (NIV)
Like nearly every part of the Bible, the above line has many levels and can mean many things. I will refrain from a wider analysis of the first part to live is Christ for now, for that is self-explanatory, though in a broader sense, it could mean discipline as well.
The second part to die is gain is more paradoxical. Death is gain? For the committed Christian, this of course makes sense. Leaving this world to be with Christ is a gain. But it also has implications for everyone else on earth too. If we are to gain anything, then something has to be sacrificed.
If people want to lose weight, then one of many things has to (or will) be sacrificed; health (a disease), unhealthy foods, inactivity (exercising instead) and alcoholic beverages, to name just a few. You cannot carry on as you are, something has to die, for something else to be gained. This is a rule that cannot bend.
As the introductory quote from The Odyssey suggests, we lose who we are when we surrender to the tastes and pleasures of this world. That’s not to say that all tastes are bad, but very often these pleasures come out of luxury, we don’t really need them. They just make us feel good. And only for a moment. Chocolate is generally not something we eat when we are hungry. We eat it for its taste and the endorphin release it gives us.
I can only think of one time when I really needed chocolate, and that was while climbing the 2nd highest mountain in Poland, called Giewont (pronounced Gee-a-vont).
We were about half an hour from the summit and I suddenly had that ‘hitting the wall’ feeling, where I genuinely felt like I could not go on. I was locked in a mind war of whether I should leave the others and head back, or keep going. I had a chocolate bar with me in my bag, one of the thick wafer ones, and this seemed to give me the energy I needed to complete the trek up the mountain.
The most powerful feeling I had during the Lent period, was one of return to who I really was. I don’t know if this was a spiritual thing, or just releasing the mental shackles from something that seemed to be a part of me. I just felt like I was the real me again, and not someone who belonged to the comforts and pleasures of the world.
It’s a hard feeling to explain, but coming home to who you are is probably the only way I can describe it. I believe if people could get to this stage with any battle they are trying to win, the objective is almost won.
I am writing this on Easter Monday, and though having completed the Lent period 2 days ago, and indulged in a little chocolate over the last 48 hours (well, it is Easter) the overwhelming feeling I get, is that I want to go back to chocolate not being on the table.
It’s a luxury and a comfort I don’t want. They say you don’t realise what you have until it’s gone, but on the positive flip side, there are somethings that you don’t realise how bad they were for you until they’re gone.
The chocolate that I have eaten since has left me feeling tired, bloated, and with a slight headache. I’m starting again tomorrow with chocolate being off the table. My plan is to only eat it once a week, but at this rate, I don’t even think that will last (for the better).
I choose instead to have the lighter weight, the flatter stomach, the feeling that I can change things that aren’t good for me, and to have a deeper connection with God.
Tomorrow is a new day and I feel good.