The second part of my Lenten discipline was a commitment to abstain from meat. This decision led to more of a disruption in my daily routine than expected. I didn’t particularly miss eating steak or chicken. Only once or twice did I find myself thinking, “Man, I’d really like a hamburger…”
The key to this process was the discovery of just how mindless I am when it comes to eating. Mindfulness; that’s the lesson of Lent for me, both in my abstention from Facebook and in this dietary adjustment. I thought, much more carefully, about dinner preparation. It didn’t bother me to prepare pork chops for my family and eat a double helping of vegetables for myself, but it brought an awareness of how meal preparation for me is often simply indulgence of my own appetites. It comes with adulthood, I guess; the privilege of deciding what we’ll eat based on what I feel like cooking or what’s in the sale bin at Food Lion. While abstaining, the what’s-on-sale criteria worked fine, but since I was not eating it, my own appetite mattered less.
Meals on the run became an issue, too. There’s not much you can grab at Chick fila that doesn’t involve meat; chicken, to be precise. Duh. As my fast-food first choice, it became more complicated to zip through the drive-thru and grab something to inhale while on the road. I saved money, I suppose, and realized that my “hunger” was often misleading, since I managed to wait until I got home before eating.
There were two occasions when I broke the fast, and those two opportunities provided the most meaningful experiences during the fast. Again, they emphasized the mindfulness of my choices. The first was a meal offered by a generous and gracious hostess after a long drive. She had prepared dinner for us, in anticipation of our hunger after an eight-hour trip. She was correct; we were hungry. She guided us to the table, already set with bowls full of hot, robust chili and cornbread. We prayed over the meal, and I felt unsettled; how could I tactfully say, “Uh…I’m not eating meat…”?
The choice I made in those moments was to accept the hospitality, realize that a little meat wasn’t going to kill me, and know that observing the spirit of the law made more sense than creating discomfort for our host. It wasn’t at all that I wanted to eat the chili, but that I wanted less to offend our host. So, I ate.
A second experience came, much like the first, but in a different setting. A small, street-side cafe in Savannah has a reputation for terrific Greek wraps. We walked in, obvious first-timers, and the cook busied himself behind the counter. “Here – you try this! Give a sample, tell me what you think!” He smiled, his accent charming us, his eyes sparkling as he handed over two pieces of wax paper dripping with juices. Again, I had to choose; was the offense of declining his open hand worth the penalty of breaking the fast? I accepted, welcomed the tasty chunk of marinated chicken and simmered sausage. And then I ordered the veggie wrap, thick wedges of portabello mushrooms and red peppers and onions and rich, creamy sauce that ran down my chin and all over my hands.
There was no shame in honoring the spirit of discipline by choosing people first. If anything, it brought home the deeper meaning of mindfulness, of carefully and thoughtfully choosing. If I could live with this sort of deliberate decision-making on a regular basis, I believe my life would be better for it. I intend to do so.