Lent conjures images of austerity. Maybe that’s why we avoid it today. I certainly don’t want to do without things I enjoy and which I feel add richness to my existence. So it came as no small surprise to discover, in my beginning attempts at “practicing” lent, that in my lifelong endeavor to provide a comfortable lifestyle for myself (and, to my credit, my family), my life had become a dilapidated house, deteriorated from years of neglect. Here’s how that realization began.
It was several years ago that I decided to attempt my first Lenten practice. I had attended an Ash Wednesday service for the first time, and the message focused on giving up something temporarily as a sacrifice to God. I thought long and hard about what to give up – I wanted to participate, yet not feel deprived. I had been in the habit of going to Starbucks for a hot mocha a couple times a week, once with a friend and once by myself. I could easily give up the mocha (and save some calories to boot…why not get two benefits at once?).
The first week, I met my friend at Starbucks as usual but purchased a bottle of water instead of my usual hot beverage. I did not return for my second weekly visit; instead I purposely holed up in my home office and read a daily Lenten devotional booklet that had been handed out at the Ash Wednesday service. By the end of the week, it felt vaguely as if I’d forgotten something, but no biggie. By the end of the second week I definitely missed my twice-weekly mocha, and a twinge of begrudging had edged into my consciousness. By third week’s end, I felt the mental perception of going through withdrawals…sensations that I could only assume were similar in nature to giving up some sort of addiction. Over a Starbucks mocha! It shocked me that something so trivial, apparently, had quite a hold on me.
Good Friday arrived, bringing Lent to a close. The sensations of withdrawal had passed. But not my awareness that the difficulty I experienced giving up such a small thing was a red flare that life as I had been living it might not be as right as I’d believed. The Lenten devotional reinforced a thought that had already begun creeping into my mind, that perhaps the innocuous things I do in any given day or week (after all, what could be more innocent than an occasional trip to Starbucks?) might have internal consequences of which I am completely unaware.
More next time. And in case you’re wondering, I do go to Starbucks for an occasional hot mocha. Just as often, I enjoy a bottle of water, or pass on the trip altogether.