22 February 2012

40 Day F.A.S.T.

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
~ Leo Tolstoy
I am Catholic and today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the 40 days of Lent.

Photo by On the White Line, used with Creative Commons

This holy day of obligation is a day with familiar traditions (liturgy and Eucharist) but also filled with unfamiliar, or uncommon rituals (mass on a Wednesday, ashes imprinted on my forehead, fasting). We are reminded on this day to turn away from sin and return to the Gospel. And on this day we are reminded of the three pillars of Lent: prayer, almsgiving and fasting. No matter your faith or beliefs, these three things don't have to be mutually exclusive to Catholics or Christians, and I have come up with a challenge for myself as I journey through these 40 days. And I invite you to join me.

Prayer - When it comes to prayer, I believe there are as many ways to pray as there are people in this world. There is no one right way to do it. I used to teach 7th grade religion and one of the best units I did with the kids was on prayer. I taught them how to lead a prayer service and how to find deeper faith through service. Perhaps it would be nice to fall back on tried and true prayers learned in my youth, and while that is what most people would think of as prayer, but I think that there is more to it than that. I try to live my life as a prayer, with thanksgiving and praise, but also with reconciling and acknowledging my weaknesses. It can be as simple as gazing in astonishment at the formation of the clouds in the sky or admitting when I have done wrong and attempting to make it right. To me, prayer doesn't have to mean just following a sacred text, or reciting stale lines from a prayer book. To me, prayer is about living in such a way that my every action is a reflection of my beliefs. To live faith-filled and other focused is my prayer for the world.

Almsgiving - In 2009 and again in 2010 I started a little project I called "Blessed Bucks." You can read about it here and here. Giving part of what you earn to those who need it more is a long tradition in many faiths and cultures. This year, as in the past, I am working on a fundraising project for my daughter's dance school. This will coincide with Lent. I also work throughout the year to donate jewelry that I have made to causes that are dear to my heart. I will be supporting the Boys & Girls club this Lent and I am sure that there will be others that will come up. But I don't stop there. I try to donate every month. And I am working on an idea of having a 'simple truth' that would be sold in my Etsy store with proceeds to go to a charity. That idea is still being worked on. I will let you know more when I have a direction for that.

Fasting - There are a lot of people I know for whom this 40 days of fasting is treated more like a punishment. To give up chocolate or coffee. To quit eating snacks or drinking soda. That is really more of abstaining, like the way Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays (which helped to give rise to Friday night fish fries, and while delicious, does little to further faith ;-). Typically, fasting is refraining from food or drink. In reality, it is just another way to set apart the day as different. When you fast from food and drink, you will feel hungry and maybe even a bit deprived. But knowing that you can easily open the refrigerator and satisfy that hunger or thirst calls to mind that there are others in the world who will go to bed without food, who lack clean water. These are things we take for granted in our world of drive-thrus and 24-hour grocery stores.

But what about fasting from other things? Turning off the T.V. Shutting down the computer. Reading a book instead of floating around on the internet hopping from one mindless site to the next. Talking as little as possible. Putting the phone to rest. For me, to truly fast is to slow your pace and set something aside, but it doesn't have to be something physically nourishing. It can also be soul-nourishing.

Today I went to church and prayed. I got the smudge of ash on my forehead and tried to imagine what a conversion of myself would be like. And I think I came up with a plan.

When I got home from work, I went for a walk.

You might think that is not a big deal. But it is to me. You see, I can't remember the last time that I actually went for a walk that wasn't accompanied by pushing a cart up and down an aisle, or on my way from the parking lot to the front door. Isn't that sad?

I saw a picture of myself with my mother from when I was in college. I had a hard time seeing myself in that girl and it has nothing to do with the style of my hair or the clothes I was wearing. I look like I may have eaten that girl, swallowed her whole. I wonder if she is still in there somewhere. I decided that I had to find out.

So I went for a walk.

As I walked, I looked at the reflection of the blue sky rippling in the long stretch of puddles by the side of the road. I saw the tufts of white clouds and the black stains of the tree trunks reflected in the rippling surface. I saw my own reflection, and I admit that I didn't like what I saw. I simply don't recognize myself anymore. I know that I need a conversion, have known for a long time, but didn't know where to start. And as my legs were stretched and my arms were pumping and I felt the cold sting of the wind on my face, a plan emerged.

The 40 Day F.A.S.T.

They say it takes 21 days to break a habit... or to build one.

What would happen if you had 40 days?

I have alternately given up things like chocolate or coffee in past Lents. But that only served to make me resent my decision every time I saw one of those really crappy-assed chocolate bunnies that look so damned tempting or I developed a lingering headache cloud that followed me around for 40 days. Neither one helped me get in touch with my faith, nor made me a better person. So today I decided that I would go for a walk. Not a big one. Just over to my parents house a few blocks away to water the plant that I have neglected since they became snowbirds and back around the long way home. Just 30 minutes or so. And while walking, and looking deep into puddles, I decided that I would walk every day, for at least 30 minutes. I would walk to get moving, to get healthier, but also to find myself. If I couldn't walk outside, I would have to fire up that ancient walking contraption in the basement that has sat idle for too long. But walk I must.

If you take something and do it - or not do it - for 40 days, what would happen? When you hit that 21 day mark will it become a habit (or break one)? Will it become second nature if you add 19 more days?

I sure hope so. I am not sure what outcome I will see in 40 days. I don't expect to fit into some different sized jeans at the end, but wouldn't that be a nice outcome? But maybe, just maybe I might start to feel better about myself, have a little time alone with myself, get to know myself better, feel a little lighter in my jeans and in my soul. For isn't that what a conversion is all about?

I am calling this my 40 Day F.A.S.T. And I am inviting you to journey along with me.

Now you might have a different goal in mind, an alternate tomorrow that you are striving to reach. I am not expecting that everyone will choose to journey with me, or that they will have the same plan. In fact, I expect that your 40 Day F.A.S.T. will be as unique as you are.

What about learning a new vocabulary word each day? For A Smarter Tomorrow

How about abstaining from negative thoughts? For A Sweeter Tomorrow

Why not stop being so hard on yourself, practice gentleness? For A Softer Tomorrow

Or maybe you will abstain from truly bad habits (texting while driving, giving up smoking, fill-in-the-blank)? For A Safer Tomorrow

For me, F.A.S.T. simply means For A Super Tomorrow... I want to be better in some way at the end of these 40 days than I am right now. Better in mind, body, spirit. And in order to have a Super Tomorrow, I know I need to start today.

Who's with me? Grab the button if you like and join my on your own unique journey for the 40 Day F.A.S.T.

The 40 Day F.A.S.T.
<div align="center"><a href="http://treasures-found.blogspot.com/2012/02/40-day-fast.html" title="The 40 Day F.A.S.T."><img src="http://i1241.photobucket.com/albums/gg508/tesoritrovati/40DayFASTcopy-1.jpg" alt="The 40 Day F.A.S.T." style="border:none;" /></a></div>

Your turn...
What would you be willing to do - or not to do - for 40 days? 
How do you think that would change you? 

If you are willing to join me in your own 40 Day F.A.S.T., please let me know in the comments and feel free to grab my button. We can check in with one another and encourage us on our way to a super tomorrow!


Amy said...

Hi Erin! Great post about this subject. Good luck with your commitment to walk each day. I am lucky to have my dogs who require a walk everyday or they act coo-koo in the house! I'm currently nursing a ruptured ligament on my ankle - but doc is still letting me get in about 20 minutes a day! Your decision to walk each day reminded me of this video I saw a couple months ago - it's about 9 minutes, but it's compelling stuff!
I think of this video on days that I am making mental excuses of why I don't have the time or energy to take a walk....and then I get my sneakers on and get outside - rain or shine!

Therese's Treasures said...

Hi Erin,
This sounds like a good idea. I am Catholic also, but I'm one of those sheep that has wondered away from the flock. Although I still try to live my life as a good, kind, and loving person, with daily talk with Our Lord, I just do not attend weekly Mass. I do attend when a family member is receiving one of the Sacraments. I'm not going to tell you that I intend to start going back to weekly Mass, although that would make my Mom happy. So I will take on this 40 day F.A.S.T. with you and take 30 minutes out of my day to soul search, whether it be taking a walk or quite meditation in my room, I'm leaning more to combinding the walk and meditation I think that would be the best way to get in touch with what is lacking in my life and getting in that daily excersize.

Joann Mannix said...


As always, you are a shining light of inspiration.

I am Catholic also and for the last few years, I have made Lent not so much about abstaining and sacrifice, but more about improving myself. I always look internally to see what needs the most work in my soul. This year, I vow to try and always, always be kind. I preach kindness to my kids, but often times, I am gossipy and judgmental myself. Misery drags a soul down and by keeping those negative parts of me around, I am denying myself happiness. I am also going to work on my spirituality. We have always been active members of our church, but in the last year, a new pastor arrived and things became a mite turbulent with some of his decisions. We found it easier to just stay away and that is unacceptable. I have another Catholic church right around the corner from my house, so I have no excuses.

I love your F.A.S.T. Another plus to walking besides the obvious exercise, is it always gives me such a wonderful time for introspection. I truly believe in the saying, "Be still and know that I am." I feel closest to God when I am alone in his world with only the birds and the rest of nature to keep me company.

I have been sorely tardy on my beautiful sister's gift. I plan on emailing you later so we can talk about it.

indigo heart said...

erin, what a lovely idea! i've been wondering what i should do for lent. i go to a presbyterian church but i grew up in a baptist church, which doesn't observe lent. so lent is new to me and i've feen floundering about a bit. and then i read your post and God told me to walk, too. it goes along with my getting healthier plan. i'm also trying to cut dairy, except for dinner, when my sister cooks. it's still too cold for me to walk outside up here, and that's the excuse i've been using to not walk. but that isn't a very good excuse, is it? i'm working on food intake already, but exercise... as i've grown up i've just completely cut myself off from my body. it's just there, kind of. i've just sort of been a head and hands. not good. so, i'll walk every day, i'll continue to watch what i eat and drink and i'll lower my dairy intake. i'd also like to focus on meditation/prayer, and i think i'll pull that practice into the walking. i've just started beth moore's 'james' study, which i highly recommend, and so i'd like to meditate on the book of james. it's such a funny book, stuffed in between all the books by paul. james is so *jewish* and emphasizes works instead of grace. i have been sadly lacking in works. so i'd also like to focus on helping my family more. and this all plays into my word of the year, which is transform. so. i'd love to work with you this lent. you are ever inspiring, as always.

cw whitedogjewelry said...

I grew up catholic, 12yrs of catholic schools, but now I'm also one of those sheep that has left the flock (thankfully, no regrets).
I too am a walker, have been for many, many years. Walking is so good for you mentally, physically and emotionally. It's the best medicine. It puts you in touch with nature, and gives you the freedom from the worries and anxieties of everyday life, if only for that short period of time. I try to walk everyday, every season. Bundle up in the winter, walk early or late in summer, but enjoy time spent clearing your mind, releasing frustrations, and attracting positive energy. Take time to really enjoy walking and see what God has created through the change of seasons. Few take the time to see the beauty of nature. To me, it's priceless!
Give it a try for 40 days, I'll bet you'll be hooked!

Cynthia said...

You are always an inspiration, regardless of subject matter. I am cheering you on from here.
Not related to lent, but coincidentally, I started counting calories last week. I download a free app on my ipod touch called "my fitness pal". I enter everything I eat, water intake, and exercise. And it keeps track of my total daily calories. It's really helping me be more conscious of what I put in my mouth. And I'm trying to get to the gym more often, too. I'll never go every day, but 3 times per week is good!
So, I'll join you for the 40 day F.A.S.T. (For A Smaller Tummy (or Tush)), as long as I can keep going when the 40 days are done!

I also have you to thank for introducing me to Pandora. I downloaded it, also to my ipod, and can't stop listening! love it!

rosebud101 said...

Very well written! I was blessed to lector at Mass on Ash Wednesday. My Lent started out well! Best of luck with your 40 day fast!

Heather Powers said...

Erin - I think a daily walk will do wonders for your soul. There isn't much a little movement and fresh air can't cure.

Thank you for the gentle nudge in being kinder and sweeter to ourselves everyday.


Holly said...

Erin, as always, your posts inspire. My religious inclinations at this point are my own, but I was raised to Believe, and as such this time has always been one of introspection and spirituality. I always find myself drawn within a bit more than usual. I am working on a number of things to become more conscious and conscientious, and would love to join this, although it is a bit late!

I am already working on the Me that I Swallowed too, and have lost about 30 pounds since the summer. I'd like to loose another 20, and to do so I'm at the point where I need to me more active, so that's what I'll commit to. After all, if I can't get outside to do something (it's usually to dark at night, and don't ask me to do anything in the morning, aka Before Coffee...), we do have a treadmill lanquishing alone in the basement...

Cindy said...

Erin, you have given us another post that is cause for reflection. I've begun my Lenten journey taking in to consideration both traditional concepts of abstinence and a positive mindset and outlook. I have begun walking as well and totally get that out of body experience seeing my old college self versus the ME now!

Rachel said...

Beautiful post. I am nearing 60 days without caffeine. I thought I would die the first four days, but now I am determined to stay free of that addiction. It has opened me up try and purify myself in other ways. My creativity has expanded the more I overcome. Well wishes.

Lori @ Studio Waterstone said...

Great post Erin! We had this discussion last week and came to the conclusion that it isn't what you give up for 40 days but that you are thoughtful and prayerful - to sum a long conversation up very badly.

GlassBeadArt said...

Erin, that is a wonderful project you have taken up for lent. I am a catholic too and during the past years, I tried to fast on internet, watching tv, etc. Sometimes successful, sometimes less ;-)
This year my project is to take time out of my day for prayer and I have gone back to praying the liturgy of hours in the breviary. I really hope the habit will settle in and i will be able to keep it up this time. I really love the prayer of the psalms, but in the past, I always gave up after a few weeks, when I had skipped a day or two and could not find my way back.
Thanks for your encouraging post!


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