This year for Lent I gave up something radical: sugar.
Normally, I would roll my eyes at such an idea. Sugar? Sweets? Dessert? How predictable. Isn’t that what everyone gives up?
Yes, it seems like many people give up some form of sugar for Lent. But my choice about what to fast from this year came after reflecting on areas in my life where I started to see some type of attachment creeping in.
In the past, the daily decision to stay away from sugar would not have been too hard. After studying as an undergrad in California and being exposed to the “novel” concept of farmers markets and organic food, I had started making more intentional decisions to live a healthy lifestyle. But now as a mom, I barely have time to sit down and eat — let alone reflect on what I’m eating or prepare myself something fresh and healthy. Add the “mom” gatherings in my life — prayer groups, Bible studies, playdates — and suddenly I’m encountering baked goods and treats almost daily. As a result, sugar consumption has vastly increased.
So for Lent, I decided to give up sugar. Why? Because this year it would truly be a sacrifice for me. While some people have a standard “go-to” option of what they do for Lent, I’ve found it more fruitful to think each year about various types of consumption that have become a little unbalanced in my life: social media, alcohol, television, meat, sugar, music.
When giving something up, I also like to add something else into my spiritual life that will make me “more full”: praying for 10 minutes a day, journaling, reading Scripture, having moments of silence. This helps me to focus not only on a lack of something, but also encourages me to be proactive about finding fulfillment in deeper, more creative ways. Quiet time, for example, can be much more filling than any dessert I crave.
I’ve learned that fasting brings with it a deeper level of intentionality. I think through my decisions before making them and have a heightened sense of awareness about things I typically take for granted.
Fasting takes planning and forethought. As I prepare to go to a gathering, I make sure to eat something filling and healthy beforehand so that I’m less tempted to grab a treat. While there, I think before loading up my plate and try to spend my time being more present to other people rather than to the whims of my stomach.
Fasting has therefore freed me to think less of myself and more about those around me. I’ve cut out something I want rather than something I need. And I’m finding that I have to get creative about ways to satisfy a desire for comfort that I previously found in eating sugar. Not having the option of eating a dessert frees up my mind and energy for other things. It reminds me to use my time well and occupy my mind with more worthy endeavors than bemoaning the fact that I can’t have that piece of dark chocolate with sea salt.
Finally, fasting is strengthening my will and changing my perspective. In our culture, we don’t often think about intentionally experiencing a lack of something. We associate this with poverty or emptiness. Our culture of consumption instead promotes filling up our lives with material goods, music, media, food, and noise.
Many of our needs are met instantly: we FaceTime when we want to talk to someone; order food and groceries to our doors; click a button to watch the latest movie. Not only are many of us saturated, we’re oversaturated.
Fasting has reminded me that it’s okay — even healthy — to go without from time to time. It strengthens my discipline and my resolve — both things that help me grow into a more well-rounded, intentional human being — and has led to a simpler, quieter lifestyle.
This year, giving up sugar is more than my attempt to lose a few pounds. Instead, it’s helping me shed the excess that keeps me spiritually and emotionally comfortable and placated. Every craving helps me to think about the “why” behind my fasting. It’s not just fasting for fasting’s sake. The goal is spiritual transformation.
When I want to reach for the banana bread or pour honey into my tea, I can reflect on joining Jesus in the desert. Like him, I am not alone in my temptations, and I’ve learned to rely more heavily on God’s grace to overcome them.
Giving up sugar has made me more intentional, more present to others, and more disciplined — it has freed me to think less of myself and more about those around me. My hope is that, as a result of my fasting this Lent, I may more fully celebrate the sweetness and abundance of the Easter season.