Today is Fat Tuesday.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent the 40-day period of sacrifice and reflection observed by many Christians (especially, but not exclusively, Catholics) as a way to prepare for the Easter celebration of Jesus' death and resurrection.
Traditionally in the Catholic Church, Lent was a time of fasting -- defined as abstaining from meat and limiting oneself to one full meal a day, usually around noon. The Lenten fast is intended to recall Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the desert before he began his public ministry.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his Lenten message this year, called for a renewed commitment to fasting, saying the practice "is a great help to avoid sin," a way to combat "disordered attachment to ourselves" and a daily reminder that many around the world live in poverty and hunger.
The tradition of fasting led, in modern times, to a broader (if less rigorous) notion of "giving something up" for Lent -- if not food, then at least ice cream; if not meat, then at least pepperoni pizza.
And the season is not just about sacrifice -- it's also a time of prayer and reflection, of learning and discernment. So in addition to "giving something up," people often commit to doing something positive -- to praying every day, or attending Mass daily, or treating everyone with kindness and patience.
As a cradle catholic I have been observing the Lenten season for my entire life. When I was really young I mostly remember 'Fish Fridays.' Growing up on a cattle ranch it was a rare exception when beef wasn't for dinner so fish sticks were pretty exciting.
As I entered Jr. High and High School I would routinely practice giving up something for Lent. Some years I did better than others with the sacrifice. This practice has continued on though my adult life.
My two youngest girls are at the age where 'Fish Friday' is about all they 'get'. They talk a big game when it comes to giving up things, but the flesh is weak. My oldest has made a list this year of sacrifices she is going to make during Lent. It was suggested to her by her CCD teacher that it is easier to be committed to a sacrifice if you write it down.
Some people suggest that it isn't as meaningful if you tell people what you are going to sacrifice for Lent. I'm guessing they believe that if you are whining or bragging about it, then the sacrifice is somehow less. I don't completely disagree. I do like the idea of writing down the sacrifice.
For me...it is easier to stay committed if I know others know and are keeping a mindful eye on me. I wish I was the type that felt strong enough to go cold turkey on all the really unimportant things in life that I value so much. But, the flesh is weak.
So this year, rather that do one really big ~ grand ~ cold-turkey approach, I have decided on three sacrifices:
#1. Coffee & Cola. A kinder and more gentle approach to the 'no-caffeine' approach I have taken in the past. I have left caffeinated tea available to jump start me in the mornings or an ice tea in the afternoon if it looks like it's going to be a long night.
#2. Chocolate. A kinder and more gentle approach to the 'no-sweets' approach that I have NEVER been able to accomplish. But those who know me well will recognize that my most craved and preferred sweet in the world is chocolate. This eliminates brownies, candy bars, and the 4 boxes of girl scout cookies that were delivered this week. This leaves me with Hot Tamales, gum, pop corn, and some other treats that will get me through but won't 'hit-the-spot'.
#3 Social networking. A kinder and more gentle approach to the 'no-technology' approach, similar to the 'no tv' approach that many sacrifice during Lent. What this means is...no facebook...no blog posting...no blog reading...no generic-mindless-web surfing. This leaves me with recipes, research, e-mail and work related computer use.
I know that each time I am craving my coffee or chocolate or facebook, that I will be reminded of the sacrifice Jesus made. I will be more reflective on what I am able to do when I am not 'doing' the computer. I am guessing that the 'need' for these will grow smaller over the days... I am guessing I will be anxious to 'get-back' the things I have decided to let go of, for this Lent season.
I will miss these 'things' in my life, but I hope that they will be replaced with Faith - Hope -Peace - Love - & - Blessings.