As you know, my Lenten discipline was somewhat extreme this year. I gave up all beverages except for water. Those who know me understand how hard this would be, particularly in the ‘caffeinated beverage’ field. Throughout this process I have been keeping tabs on my reflections, and on certain insights that I have uncovered along the way. After all, isn’t Lent a time of reflection, of self-examination, and prayer? Shouldn’t the 40 days of discipline be spent wrestling with some of the deep things of our lives? Given this, shouldn’t we arrive at the other end with some direction or thoughts on the matter?
With that in mind, I offer you some of my reflections.
MY SOURCE OF COMFORT – After the initial sense of freedom and joy found in going without the indulgence of coffee and other beverages, a dull headache began to from. This was expected. I had done my reading and knew it was coming. In retrospect the headache wasn’t that bad. I felt I could manage it quite well. What was unexpected was the amount of physical pain my body experienced. My lower back was in constant agony and my limbs were stiff and sore. I tried to make this a place of prayer, but I couldn’t think past my pain. Restlessness was my constant experience, and there was no relief to it. My intention was to go through this process without the aid of Aspirin or Tylenol. Yet the pain got so bad I had to give in, yet it never relieved me completely.
As I was going through these days I kept thinking about Augustine’s famous phrase “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Was I able to be at rest without the indulgence of coffee? If my body was willing to throw itself into intense agony simply because I was doing without my daily Americano, then what did that say about where I find my comfort and satisfaction in life? Was my longing for Jesus equal to my longing for coffee? I found myself praying “teach me, Jesus, to find my comfort and rest in you alone.”
THE RICHNESS OF COMMUNION – The discipline was simply about the giving up of coffee and other beverage indulgences. I would drink only water, with one exception: communion. This proved to be such a rich contrast. I would fill the days with plain water, which nourishes, but does not stimulate. Yet communion wine was bold and its sweetness spoke of heavenly things. I saw the celebration of communion as akin to partaking in the heavenly banquet. This thought was quite dramatic, because that nourishment and satisfaction which Jesus offers was seen in stark difference with that of the world.
Thus, my mind was caught by the pure grace of the communion wine. I reflected on how the undefinable and infinite benefit of God’s power comes flowing into my life. It is in grace that Jesus comes, not because I deserve it, but because he willingly pours himself into my life. I am an inadequate vessel, yet still he comes. How is this anything but grace?
CLAIMING GRACE – I attempted to be as diligent with my observance as possible. This proved to be difficult when I flew out to BC to attend a family funeral. We were gathered together as a family and each person was enjoying a cup of tea (Doris loved to pour tea). This tea wasn’t just a beverage, but an act of remembrance.
What should I do about my fast? What is the way of Jesus in this? Do I refuse to participate with the rest of the family in order to maintain my Lenten discipline? Do I choose the tea and assume that the discipline did not apply in this situation?
Jesus often talks about how the outward appearance is not as important as the inward reality of devotion. In speaking of fasting, he specifically calls the disciples to avoid outward signs. They are to wash their faces, and avoid putting on sackcloth. In this Jesus points us to the reality that our disciplines are to lead us to freedom. They are not to placed upon us as chains to bind us to some rule above the Gospel. Just as abstaining from beverages becomes a source of freedom and joy, so too is the partaking in beverages.
I tried to exercise this freedom as I decided to politely sip (slowly) the tea offered to me. I attempted to view having tea with the family as an act of allegiance to the life Jesus has called me to live, and an attempt to be guided by his Spirit. It was not a means to fulfil an appetite. I found in me that the freedom to live amid a discipline is precisely the freedom to not be controlled by it.
And now, here we are. I am about to be done this discipline of mine. To be honest, I’m a little nervous. I have seen great changes in my life, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I am nervous to how that first cup of coffee will affect me. I am questioning what the best way to ‘end’ may be. Do I start with orange juice? Do I hit Starbucks as soon as I can?
I do know one thing for certain. I cannot again go blindly from cup to cup, glass to glass. I must stop and reason with myself about what indulging in my beverages of choice says about me and how I am living my life. Do I really need another coffee, or am I just bored? Do I rest too much on sips of cognac and brandy to relax at the end of the day, instead of giving the day over to Him who is control of all things?
It is my hope that these types of questions and reflections will not end at the cry of Alleluia. And, by the grace of God, I pray I can live the Easter season with as much intention and drive as I did my season of Lent.