It is Ash Wednesday, and as usual I am conflicted. I've been thinking about this for a few weeks (read...ever since I turned the calendar to February and realized "holy smokes, Lent is less than two weeks away")!! I'm somewhat new to the whole "fasting" thing, it wasn't something I grew up practicing in my Presbyterian church. I was first introduced to it when my family started attending a local charismatic church. They were hard core at this, sometimes I would hear of the truly devout going on weeks long water only fasts. I had a relative who once did a 40 day water only fast (she wanted to prove to herself that the bible was true and Jesus could actually fast for that long). I got to say, I was impressed. When my appendix ruptured I was on a forced two week fast, I can testify that after the first couple of days my body kicked off the hunger signal. It is much harder to fast one day because your body is screaming at you EAT, EAT, EAT the whole day.
I have friends who are Muslims and I'm pretty amazed at their devotion to fasting during Ramadan. During that month long time period Muslims are required to fast on all food and drink from sunrise until sundown. It is a pretty impressive discipline to master. Our Lady of Medjugorje asks the faithful to fast on bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays. I have done this a few times (I like using rye bread rolls myself...hope that's not considered "cheating"). Sometimes I make it through the whole day but there are times I can only fast breakfast or breakfast and lunch and that's it. Fasting is not for the faint at heart!!
Today is Ash Wednesday, which means Catholics are required to fast (one regular meal and two small meals that don't add up to the one regular meal, no meat, no snacks). The fast isn't required for pregnant or nursing moms so technically I'm off the hook (because I'm still nursing). However, I feel GUILTY for even considering not doing it. Mentally, I realize these feelings I'm having are not the proddings of the Holy Spirit because they are very condemning. They run something along these lines...Why would you not fast? You've done complete no food fasts before while nursing so you must be looking for an excuse. How hard is it to give up meat and snacks for the day? If you can't handle that you are weak, if you truly loved Jesus like you say you do this would not be such a struggle.
I realize my struggle is not with fasting, but with my vocation and the station of life I currently find myself. My husband and I have been called to the vocation of marriage. We have been blessed with five children to care for and raise here on earth. I find that I have spent a long time pregnant and/or nursing over the last 14 years! I am blessed, overjoyed and humbled by that statement. Although it feels like I will forever be caring for a nursling the reality is that this will constitute a short amount of time when compared to my lifetime. It is not selfish to eat or modify the food fasts I do in order to produce milk for my baby. All too soon there will come a time when I no longer have a nursling at my breast and then will be my time to fast. There is a season and time for everything and I need to learn to be content in the season God has placed before me. My struggle is contentment, being patient and content in doing the work God has asked me to do. Being content in my work means not looking at what others are doing and second guessing my calling. Maybe I should be doing XYZ like so and so. God does not require me to follow so and so, He calls me to follow HIM.
That does not mean I'm throwing the whole Lenten season out the window! No, I am entering into the penitential season and picking up my cross and following in my Lord's footsteps. I am still planning on giving up a favorite food treat for the next 40 days. I'll commit to "meatless Fridays" and make sure to get my protein in some other way so my milk supply doesn't suffer. I'll focus on praying more and cutting out the excesses in my life so I can better hear and obey His voice. I'll work on modeling and teaching this to my non-Catholic children. I'm following how Jesus wants me to follow (which might mean no all day food fasts for me this season). It might mean not attending morning Mass today because my baby is sick, even though I was looking forward to it. Jesus has fashioned my cross perfectly and it is what transforms and shapes me to be more like Him and ultimately to become more like myself, the person He created me to be.