If my name had a synonym, that’d be it. At least if we’re going by the most-commonly-used word to describe me by both friends and strangers, Asians and non-Asians.
At five-one-and-three-quarters and just a little over 100 pounds, I will be the first to agree: I am small. No matter how much I eat or how little I exercise, I have still been able to get away with jeans and form-fitting dresses from high school. It’s great – but the problem is, it makes it all the easier to hide my struggles with food.
A few weeks ago, some of my fellow interns and I decided to celebrate “Fries”-day (Friday) with an Amazon Local deal for Z-Burger. $22 worth of food for just $11. It was an intern’s dream come true. It was also two days after Ash Wednesday.
After finishing my last fry, I texted a friend about how greasy my insides felt but how good the splurge was. He shared what he’d had for lunch, and despite my bursting stomach, I responded with “Ooh that sounds so yummy.” That’s when I realized I had a problem.
“The first step is acknowledgement.” That’s what they teach you when you’re trying to quit, isn’t it? But how am I supposed to quit eating? Food is at the heart of my culture’s expressions of community and hospitality, not to mention that it is my primary love language. Food is also a gift that many desire, and it would be ignoble of me to forego the privilege of eating solely for personal growth. How could I possibly choose to give up something so enjoyable and blessed and essential to life?
After that fateful Fries-day, I resolved to fast one meal per day for the rest of the Lenten season. And during that when I would otherwise be eating, I would refrain from working or running errands and would instead spend time in prayer, releasing burdens, lamenting the tragedies in our world and remembering the sacrifices that marked Jesus’s life and death.
The solution to gluttony, I discovered, is not not-eating. Taking on gluttony head-first, or rather stomach-first, does not mean cutting off my food supply and shunning my taste buds. Gluttony for me is not just the desire to consume tasty food in large quantities even when my hunger is satisfied. Gluttony is also a struggle of the mind and will. I constantly talk about food, look at other people’s food and take pictures of food. In college, I got through boring lectures by planning how to navigate the cafeteria to hit up my favorite food stations. The most classic example of my struggle with gluttony happens during communion, when I’m wondering how the bread is going to taste instead of “examining my heart” – and then I have to confess that on top of everything else. See, I’m even talking about food right now!
I am not waging war against food. Gluttony is only the manifestation of a deeper discontent. How often have I craved dinner more than good company or turned to chocolate in times of stress instead of the Bread of Life? I resonate with the Israelites in the wilderness when they complained about their hunger and tried to store up their manna, only to find them covered in maggots the very next day. Unlike the Israelites, though, I have never known enslavement or lost my home or come close to starvation; yet I am often more concerned about filling my stomach than filling my spirit. Both are important and not mutually exclusive, but more than decreasing my appetite’s control over my daily life, confronting gluttony means confessing my self-absorption and reordering my loves until Christ becomes my greatest pursuit.
For Lent this year, I initially decided to do a Carbon Fast to strengthen my commitment to environmental stewardship. The fast, sponsored by Interfaith Power and Light, included a calendar that suggested a different eco-friendly action each day. It’s a fantastic idea, but it required little effort from me because I already did many of these actions. If I were to give up anything for Lent, it needed to be a sacrifice. Fasting is sacrifice. It is giving up the principal distractions in daily life so as to create space for the Spirit to move.
Fasting from food frightens me, which is exactly why I know I need to do it. It tests my patience and lowers my energy. It shortens my temper, so that I give in more easily to insecurities and lies. It reminds me that I am a human. And as I accept the reality that I cannot transcend my humanity, I remember that Jesus was human as much as Jesus was divine. I am finding a lot of freedom in Jesus’ humanity, because as I confront my weakness in hunger, I am claiming God’s grace and sustaining power for every moment.
I began my Lenten discipline thinking I would somehow “master the art of fasting.” Truth is, fasting is nothing to be mastered. It is precisely the discomfort, the uncertainty, the sense of fragility, that propels me to press deeper into the presence of God and to lift up the cries of my brothers and sisters around the world facing hunger every day. It is the embodiment of Jesus’ prayer when he teaches us to ask, “Give us this day our daily bread.”