So, true confession time. After reading the book One Thousand Gifts, which takes gratitude as its life-changing theme, I decided I too would become a more thankful person. I would keep a little notebook. I found a little notebook, and while I kept it, I didn't exactly keep notes in it. I did manage to record four items I was grateful for one day.
And then Lent approached and I was debating what to give up. I had given up Facebook twice before and it was revolutionary, but I genuinely felt that having just relaunched my business, it really wasn't the time to go missing from a social network (see how my addiction grows?). I also contemplated going meatless for 40 days, but our diet is already pretty challenging and soon we would be living on air, so I decided that wasn't it either. I had accidentally fallen into sugar addiction this winter; usually I don't have a sweet tooth, but I had some sugary stuff and then some more, and I wanted out of that, so I decided that I would give up sugar (although not scrupulously -- if our spaghetti sauce had a bit, oh well -- but I wouldn't eat desserts, sweet drinks, and I would join my daughter in maple-flavoured granola and such.). But that one felt like something that should happen anyhow.
So, I decided to add a second fast. (Let me say that by talking about it now, I am kind of negating what I'm about to say, but there's a reason for it.) I decided to fast from a certain kind of Facebook: rather than my usual witty, self-centred posts, I would only post things I was grateful for.
There's still a week left in Lent, but I'm not sure whether it's been harder to banish the physical cravings or the emotional ones. Certainly I have wanted a cookie here and there, sometimes quite badly. I've cheated twice -- once utterly accidentally at a work dinner when I was served dessert and didn't even think of it until afterwards. (Interestingly that set off a sugar craving.) The second time was at a farewell meeting with a client -- I decided it would be ruder to refuse. I also have followed the practice of having Sundays be a feast day, where fasting is off for the day. The first week, Dave bought me a small Laura Secord Easter egg -- and I ate half of it before breakfast, and then enjoyed a sugar-induced headache. As time has gone on, though, I feel less of an urge to Eat Sugar Because I Can.
But my Facebook partial fast has been even more interesting. I decided not to tell Facebook what I was doing, but not to keep it an utter secret either. I mentioned what I was doing, a week in, at church and a Facebook friend said, "Ohhhh, I noticed something was different."
So did I. Joining my desire to be thankful with my Facebook habit made it way more successful than my little notebook. That didn't translate into lists and lists of things I was grateful for. At least not some days. Some days, I walked the dog with a cloud over my head, trying to imagine how I could spin gratitude out of the situation that was bugging me. And then, the cloud thickened as I realized how little I had to not be grateful for, and how difficult it sometimes is to even know what is good and what is not -- how gratitude can spring forth from any situation.
I didn't break my Facebook fasts on Sundays. It's one thing to scarf sugar and quite another to whine and complain about a week's worth of woes and inconveniences.
People responded differently to these posts too. There were Likes from different people than usual. There were stories about people's own similar experiences of noticing good things. Facebook asks: What's on your mind? Being grateful changed the answer from MEMEME to looking outside myself.
And here is the kicker. Just this week, I felt a bit surprised and disappointed that my stats were down on this blog -- fewer people had read what I posted than usual. And then, a friend commented in a note that I had been quiet on Facebook for a while. I was puzzled: I had been posting every day. And then I looked closer and realized that actually in sending a link to a friend through Facebook, I had accidentally changed my settings so that only this friend had been getting my posts and notifications about the blog.
It took nine days and a friend's question for me to realize.
The purposes of Lent are many, but among them are learning to say no to self, learning the discipline of delayed gratification, the meaning of the cross. Feeling my occasional crankiness for sugar and saying no to it sometimes felt futile, stupid, pointless and utterly unspiritual -- but still I said no. And I think I'm more ready for Easter because of that discipline. But, the other discipline has had richer changes. It's saying no, but it's also a saying yes -- a saying yes and thank you to what God brings into my life, rather than resisting it, even with charm. It's saying no to self and yes to life. It's resisting the urge to blurt out the emotions of the moment-- good, bad or ugly -- and instead to receive what comes with grace.
So, one week left. And then there shall be cookies and bubble tea and biscotti and liorice and a certain amount of thoughtless eating. But, I haven't decided yet whether to let go of this other discipline. I think I will post more links than I have, share resources. But I think of that pre-breakfast sugar headache, and I wonder what the consequences are for self-centred spontaneous expression -- whether soul ache, for writer and reader, are the result, and whether this fast may, actually, last.