Is there anyone out there who gave up something for Lent? Maybe chocolate, or wine. (I’m not sure why these two sources of yummy goodness tend to be among the first to go!)
Recently I was advised to cut back various foods that have an inflammatory effect in the body. For two weeks, I strictly avoided coffee, alcohol, chocolate and sugar, dairy products, citrus fruits and tomatoes. I know, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, does it?
After my involuntary fast from these foods, I allowed myself the occasional cup of coffee, or the odd sip of wine. And I noticed something: my appetite for these things had changed. My compulsive two cups of Java in the mornings no longer held much appeal. When I did have a cup, it tasted too strong and the buzz went immediately to my head. I stayed off sugar for significantly longer - like many friends did over Lent - and even now sweets seem too sweet, artificial tasting, not really the fun they are made out to be.
I guess this is the same process anybody goes through when we make changes to our diet. At first, we wonder how on earth we will eat all the vegetables we’ve been advised. And before long, when we feel like a snack, we are choosing to reach for the carrot sticks instead of the candy bar. Or perhaps we make different fitness choices. At first it seems impossible to consider getting out of our warm beds early enough to fit in a run, or a workout. But after a few weeks, we are surprised to find that we enjoy this energy boost that sets us up for our day. Our appetites change as we train them to desire things that are good for us, and as we wean ourselves off those things that we like but that are ultimately not so good for us after all.
I believe this same process is at work in the rest of our lives. We have appetites and desires - to be up to speed with the latest episode of our favourite soap, for example - that are the product of what we habitually feed ourselves. So, my customary surfing of Pinterest feeds a desire in me to have a picture perfect home, or to continually upgrade my wardrobe. It’s an appetite for some elusive perfection that leaves me feeling discontented with my lived-in home, or my worn but comfy jeans and sneakers.
We live in a time of unprecedented exposure to things we are supposed to want. Heck, ideally we are meant to feel that we need them, we just have to have them. (I write with feeling here, being in the middle of navigating 13th birthday celebrations for our youngest!) And, whether we are aware of it or not, our appetites and desires are being constantly formed by this steady stream of things we are told make up the ‘good life.’ There comes a time, I think, when we have to take a step back - to choose, perhaps, to abstain from things that are not, ultimately, good for us. And to choose to feed on those things that, though they don’t immediately seem as appetising, are in fact what will nourish our souls into health and wholeness.