If you’re anything like me, you get to Day 6 of Lent and you start amending your sacrifices, making them easier and less painful. You may even have a conversation with yourself that looks like this:
Scene: I’m quietly engaged in a task. My brain is wandering in thought.
Suddenly, Brain taps me on the shoulder, “Hey, Britt…”
I continue folding laundry/typing an email/reading a book, “What?”
Brain asks, cautiously, “Remember how we used to eat chocolate and watch Netflix all the time?”
I stop what I’m doing, “Of course I remember. It was just last week.”
Brain, excitedly now, “Wasn’t that great and delicious? Don’t we LOVE doing that? Don’t we MISS it?”
I shrug, “Well, sure, but -“
Brain interrupts me, “THEN WHY AREN’T WE DOING IT ANYMORE?!?!”
… And then Brain angrily floods me with cravings and longings for my pre-Lent habits. A wrestling match ensues between my craving for endorphin-inducing habits and my weak, barely functioning self-control.
I get up and unwillingly walk to the pantry, “Brain! Stop it! We gave this up for a reason! It’s good for us!”
Brain, screaming and stomping its imaginary feet, “NO! NO! NO! NO! Get the chocolate NOW!”
I summon all of my strength and brace my hands against the closed pantry door, “The sacrifice brings us closer to Christ! It humbles us and reminds us that we depend on only Him!”
Brain, full-out raging like a 3-year-old toddler, “I’M NOT LISTENING! GIMME GIMME!”
I continue, “I know you really want it. It’s comforting. It’s immediate gratification. It feels good. I get it!”
Brain, still angry, pauses enough to say, “You do?”
I nod, “Yes, of course I do. We’re the same person, Brain. We need to work through this so that we can let go of the attachments that keep us from pursuing Christ. This will bring us clarity of mind, and it will give us more time to spend reflecting on scripture and praying. It will bring us more good in the long run than any amount of chocolate or Netflix combined.”
Brain, calming down, sighs, “I guess you’re right. I still don’t like it.”
I nod again, “I know. I didn’t like it at first, but I know how important it is. We’ve gotten too far from God. We’re too caught up in the material world and the demands of our culture. We need this, Brain.”
Brain, pouting, “Okay, fine. We need this. I’ll try to calm down.”
I go back to what I was doing before, “Good. Thank you.”
Brain taps me on the shoulder, “But I can’t guarantee this won’t happen again along the way.”
I reply, “I figured this would take some getting used to. I understand if we need to revisit the issue again. But maybe turn down the drama a little next time?”
Brain nods, “I’ll see what I can do. Now stop talking to yourself, it’s embarrassing.”
I roll my eyes, “You’re embarrassing.”
I share this struggle because it’s a common and expected part of fasting and giving up something you enjoy. Our brain gets used the instant gratification. It really likes any activity that floods us with endorphins or other feel-good chemicals, and will encourage us to repeat them in the future. When we don’t, it notices the lack of feel-good chemicals and bothers you to repeat the activities that brought them on in the first place. This takes the form of cravings, urges, longings, and feeling preoccupied with thoughts of what you gave up (be it alcohol, food, TV, Facebook, internet, etc.).
It’s normal to feel like you need to give in to these cravings, that they urgently need to be attended to. But they don’t need to be indulged. It may seem that the cravings may last forever, but they can’t. What goes up must come down, and if you wait it out long enough, the urge will fade and you can turn your attention back to what you were doing.
So the next time your brain attacks you with cravings, try the following steps:
- Stop what you’re doing and simply notice the sensation/feeling.
- Label the sensation/feeling, saying something like, “This is a craving. I really want chocolate/Facebook/TV/Dr. Pepper. It’s a pretty strong craving.”
- Without getting up, keep bringing your attention back to what the sensation looks like and feels like. Is it loud? Is it quiet? Is it urgent? Does it seem anxious? Just notice what it is.
- Take 3 deep breaths (breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for a count of 4).
- Give thanks to God for his many blessings and ask for his continued help on this Lenten journey.
- Go back to what you were doing or turn your attention to a new task.
- Try going outside if you’ve been inside.
- Call or text someone.
- Do something that requires creative thinking, like coloring, drawing or playing a game.
- Repeat steps 2-4 if necessary until you’re able to move on to a new activity.
Hope this helps! You CAN do this.