While most people are familiar with Mardi Gras and Easter Sunday, they don’t usually pay attention to the 40 days in between. In the Catholic church, this time period is known as Lent, and is a time of personal sacrifice and reflection leading up to our holiest day. You are supposed to give up something important to you for the duration of Lent (although you can do whatever you want on Sundays, which always confuses me. Shouldn’t it be more important to follow through with your sacrifice on the holiest day of the week?), which teaches you about repentance and brings you closer to God. In the past, I’ve given up things like soda (pretty easy), chocolate (not so easy), and gossiping (thought I was going to die). I’m not sure that giving up soda made me feel closer to God, though, or made me a better person. Except that now I usually drink one can a week or less, which is probably great for my blood sugar.
It’s interesting to me how many things happen during Lent that really aren’t sacrifices at all. Take fish fries, for example. Wisconsin has a great tradition of Friday fish fries, and attendance doubles or triples during Lent when the church says we can’t eat meat on Fridays. But let’s face it: fried fish is dee-licious. Going to a fish fry and eating perch or cod with cole slaw, french fries, and an all-you-can-eat salad bar really isn’t a hardship for me. Tom, however, is allergic to fish and knows what he’s missing because he ate it when he was younger. Even though Tom’s been given a special dispensation to eat meat on Fridays, he usually opts for a soggy grilled cheese sandwich. Now that’s sacrifice.
I’m also amused at all of the young folks who are “giving up Facebook” for Lent. I suppose it could be a real hardship for the technologically-advanced youth who are addicted to their status updates and photo galleries, but to me it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. This probably goes back to the fact that to them, I’m a thirty-something dinosaur who was alive when tight-rolled pants were the height of cool and computers were black screens with glowing green text.
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics who attend mass are anointed with ashes on their foreheads as a reminder of repentance. You’re supposed to leave the ashes on your forehead until they wear off on their own, but mine usually come off in the next shower. Which I suppose counts, since they’re wearing off on their own under the water. I’ve always wondered how long they would last without a shower. In previous jobs I would usually go to mass over lunch time, and it never failed that upon returning to the office I would get many curious stares about the “dirt” on my forehead. I actually had one student employee come up and tell me that I had something on my forehead, and asked if would I like him to get a wet paper towel to wash it off! It’s ashes of burned palms, people! The outward sign of my repentance and Catholic-ness! Not dirt that I picked up from my car door and wiped all over my forehead!
This year, I was debating what to give up for Lent. Should I give up chocolate? Not with Sweet Pea trying my patience on a daily basis; ice cream is sometimes the only thing that gets me through. Should I give up coffee from the gas station? Now that one would be pretty tough, because I love me a cheap cappuccino. But I’ve decided to do something that might actually be a sacrifice and help make me a better role model for Sweet Pea: I’m going to give up saying negative things about myself. Women tend to be self-deprecating to a fault, but if I want Sweet Pea to grow up confident in herself and her abilities, I need to be confident in myself and set a good example. So for 40 days, I am not going to tell Tom that I hate my hair. Or that all of my jeans make me look fat. Or that I’m a failure because the rice boiled over while I tried to cook, load the dishwasher, pick up cheerios off the floor, and feed Sweet Pea dinner all at the same time. I am not Superwoman. I will tell myself one good thing every day, and try to appreciate all of the great things in my life instead of focusing on the tiny negatives that can ruin a day.
Finally…now I can eat beer battered fish without a side of guilt that the grease is going straight to my thighs. That’s progress.