I’m not a religious person, but the one thing that has stuck with me from my four years of Catholic school is Lent. Not so much the biblical history behind it (though I have a vague memory of the story behind Lent) but the annual ritual of choosing something to give up for 40 days is a formidable memory of my time at that school. There was something about choosing a vice to go without for six weeks, though I can’t really say I had many vices as a young teen. I gave up chocolate every year, and I remember one year I gave up fast food. Some of my classmates would joke and choose to “go without” something they never indulged in to begin with, but I tried to at least pick something that I needed to cut back on and that I could feasibly go without for a little bit.
I nearly forgot about Lent this year. I’ve been distracted; the last few weeks have been unexpectedly hard and honestly, my focus wasn’t about giving anything up, it was about just getting through it. But when I checked the calendar and saw that Lent began in mid-February this year, I realized that it was time, once again, to check my vices and practice my annual exercise in self-discipline. It helped that in an effort to get through the hard times, I kind of just threw caution to the wayside and let everything go. Lent would be my way of getting things back on track.
I had gone wild in recent weeks when it came to two specific things: spending money and eating chocolate. I am more indulgent than I should be for both on most days, but because things had gotten so hard I really spent and consumed without thought for the consequences. And while I was fortunate that there really hadn’t been any consequences just yet, if I continued in the same vein there definitely would have been. And for what? Because I was desperately trying to fill a hole in my life and a hole in my heart? Nothing I bought would ever be able to fill that, nor would any type of chocolate I consumed.
So the night before Lent began, I took stock of where I was at. I had no need to buy anything besides food and other living essentials in the near future, not even a staple like toilet paper. (I don’t want to talk about it, but somehow I have ended up with like a year’s supply of toilet paper in my storage closet. HOW?) And I had eaten so much chocolate recently that it was a very welcome thought to stop for the next few weeks. Before I knew it, night had turned into day and Lent had begun.
I always think there’s going to be a big fanfare before I give something up, like there has to be preparations made beforehand. But what is there to do to prepare to stop spending and stop eating chocolate besides, well, just stopping doing so? There’s nothing I need to buy that can’t wait six weeks before I buy it. There’s nothing chocolatey I have to eat. I just need to stop doing both for a little bit.
My “rules” for Lent are that I am only able to buy things that are experiences, and not things. This is mainly because I am going on vacation next month, and I want to be able to enjoy it exactly how I want to. I don’t really plan on buying any souvenirs since my trip is to visit my family, but I do want to be able to spend the money needed to do whatever we decide to do when I’m there. The other exception is that if there is a chocolate dessert at my mom’s wedding reception next month. I don’t want to be that person at the reception who has to ask for another dessert, if there even is any. But otherwise, I cannot and will not let myself spend money or eat chocolate until Lent is over — if not longer.
It’s only been a few days, but so far, so good. I came close to wanting to buy a skein of yarn to use as an accent color for a shawl I’m knitting, but then I realized that I already had a color in my stash I could use for that. And when my friend and I went on an accidentally very romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, I chose pistachio cheesecake instead of the chocolate cake. I know there will be days that are harder than others, and maybe I’ll even accidentally slip but, but that’s okay. The point is that I tried, and am trying, to be a little bit more self disciplined. I’m doing this because I have to learn how to let the pangs of want and desire pass. They’re just moments, after all. Like all moments, they always pass.