Failing At Rice & Beans

Sarah Sanderson is a writer, speaker, mother, and as you’ll discover in this piece, a confessing Rice & Beans failure. Her husband, Jeremy, is the pastor of Oak Hills Presbyterian Church in Milwaukie, Oregon; a congregation that has embraced Rice & Beans as a Lenten practice. Their congregation has learned and grown in many different ways through participating in Rice & Beans, and some of the most important lessons tend to come when things don’t go all that well. For anyone who needs a hefty dose of grace along with their Rice & Beans at this point in the journey, soak up what Sarah has to share.

Failing At Rice & Beansby Sarah Sanderson

When our family ate rice and beans for Lent in 2016, we started off with one meal a week, and gradually increased as we went along. So last year, I figured we’d up the ante even further. Ash Wednesday kicked off with an all-church potluck. Maybe because my husband is the pastor, we took home tons of leftovers. So it was easy to eat rice and beans for lunch on Thursday… and dinner on Thursday… and lunch on Friday… and dinner on Friday. So far, so good.

Except, it wasn’t good. My stomach was killing me.

I’d met people with this particular resistance to rice and beans before, and I admit I had inwardly rolled my eyes at them. Really? I thought. You can’t eat rice and beans because of your digestive system? It seemed like a cop-out.

But this year, my stomach turned on me. My guts felt stretched and worn, the way I imagine I might feel after crunching five thousand sit-ups. And, let’s be honest… there were moments when the air around me smelled pretty vile.

My husband and I laughed about it. “I guess I’m just giving up fresh air for Lent,” I joked. “Toots for Jesus,” he chuckled. But I still didn’t feel very good.

That first Friday night of Lent, I got together with a friend who told me that she hadn’t eaten anything at all that day. I expressed my concern. “Oh, I basically starve myself for Lent,” my conservative Catholic friend explained, “because Christ suffered so much for us.”

I gulped. It was true; Jesus did suffer so much for us. And wasn’t that the point of observing Lent, anyway? Expressing our solidarity with the sufferings of Jesus? And, let’s not forget, solidarity with the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world, who eat rice and beans—or less—every day of their lives. I resolved to think of Jesus whenever my Lenten beans got to me.

That worked… for a while. For the next few weeks, I ate rice and beans at our Wednesday church potlucks, and a few other times a week. My stomach continued to hurt. And I tried to think of Jesus.

But then, I went out of town. I got out of the potluck routine. I missed another potluck or two because of my son’s soccer practice schedule. Suddenly, it was Holy Week, and I realized: I hadn’t eaten rice and beans in weeks.

Now, I felt guilty. Christ suffered so much for me, and I completely forgot that I was supposed to be doing something for Him.

I share all this because I wonder if you might be a little bit like me. Maybe your church is committing to eat rice and beans, and you’re not sure you want to join in. Maybe beans make your stomach hurt. Maybe you started off with good intentions, and then forgot to see it through. It’s so hard for us, sometimes, to do even little things for Jesus.

But here’s the truth about Christ’s sufferings: only Christ can carry them. On Good Friday, I realized, there’s a reason Jesus is up on that cross, and not me. Like the disciples, I cave under pressure. I can’t even remember to eat something mildly discomforting a few times a week for six weeks. And that’s okay: because Jesus is the only one who is truly able to pray, “Not my will, but yours, be done.”

As Paul prays for the Philippians, I am “confident of this: that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Jesus is the One who begins the good work, who carries us along way, and who sees it completed. May He complete the good work of Lahash International. And may we keep trying, failing, and trying again, to do our little human part.