Great Lent For Dummies
At least, that’s the way it’s been for me most of the time. It can be hard on a convert. I will not go into the extra-prayer, extra-Bible reading, extra-church going, extra-charity, etc. side of the Lent. I will, instead, talk about what has been the hardest for me – the food part.
I converted to Orthodoxy in early 1992. That year, my husband and I kept the Lent to a T. I was starving the whole time, and had wild, borderline-erotic dreams of bologna. I clearly remember eating fourteen boiled eggs at our church’s Easter party. I was that famished. The next year, I was nursing and therefore exempt. Then pregnant, then nursing again, then, believe it or not, nursing again. Then suddenly it was 1998 and it was OK for me to participate in the Lent. Only, I’d forgotten how. Plus, I had lost my support group aka my husband. He decided that he didn’t need to go to the church or follow the rituals. I still had to cook for him. The kids weren’t so keen on fasting, either.
I blew it miserably that year, and all the years after that. However, I did notice that, with each year, I get a little closer to the mark. Apparently, I have learned something, and I’d like to share what I learned in this post. My advice is not for the seasoned Orthodox. The seasoned Orthodox will probably bust their gut laughing while reading this post, as will the vegetarians. Thing is, I am a carnivore and normally wouldn’t last a day without meat. My advice is for weak carnivores like myself. If your family expects you to cook meat for them, all the better. Mine does, too.
Here is my experience of seven years, summed up nicely in one post.
It pays off. Believe it or not, fasting does make you feel better – not “better about yourself”, but physically better, “lighter” – and makes it easier for you to do all the other, spiritual stuff. I have also found that planning Lenten meals helps you get “in the mood”.
Plan ahead. Think about what you’re going to eat, what you will cook, what you will buy. And think about these things in advance. This way you won’t accidentally go into a store and buy a case of yogurt because you forgot.
Aim low. If you go into the first day of Lent thinking, “I cannot eat all these things till May 1st”, you’ll probably give up by the end of the day. Personally, I plan on staying off meat for as long as I can, and off everything else for the first week, and then I’ll see where it takes me. If I feel that I cannot keep it, then I’ll take a break and start over. I’ll have plenty of time for that. Then I'll stay off as much as I can for Holy week. That one's easy, because you're in church half the time.
All sources on the Lent that I have read, are, of course, saying that you should ask your priest first, which I absolutely agree with. But chances are, the priest will say, "Give it your best try".
Don’t count calories. If you’re thinking about giving up meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and carbs, you might as well give up now. Give yourself a break. Chances are, you’ll lose weight anyway.
Don’t check the ingredients. A lot of my vegetarian and Orthodox friends do that. They’ll read the label to make sure it doesn’t say “processed egg whites” anywhere. They won’t eat white bread for fear it has butter in it. I’m just not that advanced. I’ll be lucky if I can stick it out at all.
Avocado is your friend. I discovered this worthy vegetable a year or two ago, and it is priceless. It actually fills you up. Eat it with salt and rye bread, it’s almost as good as meat.
Say hello to your local deli. I did it last year. Once a week, I’d go to our local ethnic deli and stock on things like beef stew, stuffed cabbage, chicken Kiev etc. etc. I would then bring the boxes home and announce to my husband, “This is your food, don’t let me eat it even if I beg”. Worked great. The temptation is much less when you don’t have to actually cook the stuff.
I can’t believe it’s not butter. I plan on eating things that I normally wouldn’t. Canned vegetables, margarine spread, in other words, not your everyday organic food. The plan is to try these before giving up altogether. People tell me peanut butter is a popular Lenten food. I’m not a big fan, but I may end up trying that, as well.
I hope this helps. I also hope to do better this time than I did last year. I also have a crazy dream.
My crazy dream that my children will at least try to keep the Lent with me. Matter of fact, K9 has already told me he’s giving up Wendy’s. Could it be?
Good articles on Lent can be found here, here, and here.