I'm horrible at self-discipline. Sacrifice is particularly rough for me and developing new patterns for myself practically kills me, to be honest. It's part of the human condition. We're made to be selfish and to guard our rights and possessions. And we think we deserve it all, like we've somehow earned what we have and it's ours.
I took a challenge this week. I spent three days eating only rice and beans. It was supposed to be five, according to the challenge. I only made it through three, and here's what I've learned (or at least remembered):
- I'm weak and I need the support of my family and community. I was encouraged not to give up by my husband and several members of my community who also participated in this challenge, who acted as support, accountability and others who could identify with what I felt. I don't even attend the church which sponsored this challenge, but I learned about it through a friend, and it was something that I felt would be a good exercise for me in compassion, understanding, and even in spiritual discipline. This is the longest "fast" of any kind that I've ever done, and frankly, I'm actually proud I lasted as long as I did.
- I live in an environment full of temptation. I'm not really sure which is worse, having no choice but to go to bed hungry, like the people with whom I set out to identify, or going to bed hungry because I CHOSE to participate in this, knowing that there were all sorts of other options in my house and watching my children eat whatever they wanted. There was ice cream in my freezer, bagels in my refrigerator, Oreos on my counter, all kinds of processed "convenience" foods in my pantry. There is also a slew of menus from various restaurants in the area to call for carry-out or delivery, and money in our checking account to be able to do so when "necessary."
A friend told me that this sort of exercise did nothing for her, that she's identified with "third world" countries by being there and walking the streets. For her, that's enough "awareness." For me, even after having walked through the villages of Grenada -- seeing the dirty huts they call homes, watching them climb trees to find bananas and mangoes just so they can have lunch, and eagerly awaiting the one delivery of water a day to their village just to have a drink (I'm not sure when - if ever - they had baths or showers and I don't know where they went to the bathroom) -- even after seeing all that and feeling my heart break, you know what I did? I returned back to the "base" where we stayed and had a warm shower, changed into clean clothes, and drank a tall glass of water. I grabbed a fresh banana from the stash in the cellar, and waited to be called to a huge dinner in the "mansion" house. My biggest concern was whether I had enough sunscreen for the trip to the beach the next day and I knew that I had a soft bed to look forward to, but still complained about sharing the room with the other girls because they were "noisy."
Stepping out of my comfort zone was essential to my understanding and awareness. It was an exercise in compassion. Even knowing it was temporary, it hurt. And I spent three days hurting deeply for those around the world who don't have a choice about what they eat. I have utmost respect for anyone who doesn't practice spiritual disciplines, and do not in anyway look down on them. We are all where we are, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Another friend mentioned that he was glad that the "golden goat" he worshipped didn't make him do things like that. While I laughed a little at the comment, I was frustrated at the same time. No one made me do this, and no one is a lesser person for NOT doing it. Like all practices, you get what you give, and it was all about the decision to participate and engage myself fully in the exercise. I wanted to learn. I wanted to be changed. And if I'd done it just to "jump on the bandwagon," I don't think it would have done anything for me either.
But I needed to be reminded of how blessed I am. I needed to be reminded that it's not a right to have the luxuries I think I "need." And I needed to be reminded in a very practical way that there are those who aren't so "lucky" and that there has to be more I can do.
And I was never so thankful for the gift of the warm bagel I had for breakfast this morning.