I promised my Dad I would, at least once, write a “guest” lenten meditation. I can’t write one, as well as he writes 40, but I will try.
One of the parts about having a child that has been the most fascinating for me is to watch my daughter, from the day she was born, instinctively know what she needs. As a small baby, she ate when she was hungry, slept when tired, and cried when she needed comfort. Even today, just over a year old, I am told she will sometimes on her own initiative find a quiet corner and a pillow at day care, lay her head down, and take a nap. Indeed, my “Dr. Spock” tells me that you can’t spoil an infant, because they don’t have “wants,” only needs.
I have also watched as we, the world, try to conquer her needs, her instincts and impulses. Eat at this time, not when you are hungry. Sleep at this time, wake at this time. These attempts are somewhat successful, but also somewhat absurd — my daughter always finds a way to get us to give her food when she is hungry and, as illustrated by her spontaneous naps, sleep when she is tired. But as she grows, she becomes increasingly unable to resist our attempts to civilize her. I notice that she increasingly wants a banana, just for the joy of eating one, even though she is not possibly hungry. She fights sleep a little more than she used to do.
Observing her change from a purely instinctual being into a little person has made me somewhat fascinated with, well, how wrong it is. How wonderful to know what you need! I mean, really need. And how sad that I am encouraging her slowly to listen to ME and not her body. Will she too wake up one day and be like me? Will she reach for a Starbucks rather than find a quiet place and pillow? Will she confuse boredom with hunger? Importantly, who or what will she look to for comfort? If she is anything like her mother, the answer is: a cookie! I say this not to knock my own personal affection with sweets, but to illustrate the point. How did I become so “civilized” as to believe that when I have had a hard long day, when I am lonely or sad, afraid, a Thin Mint would actually address that need.
I read this quote recently in The Daily Om:
The human body has been blessed with the same physical intuitiveness that all nonhuman living beings employ instinctively. But because our lives are no longer bound up in nature’s rhythms, we must actively seek to reconnect with this formerly innate skill.
For many of us, the act of fasting in Lent allows us to work on this reconnection. By giving up something that we recognize as something we probably don’t need, we become closer to that little baby we were when we were born. Free of one of the little humanized habits we have developed, we reconnect with our own true needs. For me, I gave up Starbucks coffee treats; it has helped me become more aware of my own body’s natural rhythms without the aid of caffeine and sugar.
During Lent (any time really), we can also reconnect with our needs through prayer. Try this: pray to God for what you need from him. Now, re-think: Pray for what you really need. After a long day, you wouldn’t likely implore God for a glass of wine or a Tagalong cookie, which is what you want. What would you ask him for? Perhaps ask him to help you feel his peaceful presence. When you desperately want a new job, try asking God not just for that new job, but ask him to comfort you as only he can. Or enlist him in helping you have faith and trust in him that your circumstances will improve. By probing deeper into what it is we need, we improve not only our relationships with God, but also our relationship with ourself. By letting go of our wants, and realizing what it is we need in any moment, we become more open and able to listen to and feel God’s response. We reconnect with the newly baptized versions of ourselves, who can only be spoiled by God’s unending love.