Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Once again, I am really excited about the start of Lent.

It sounds odd, I suppose, to be excited about a season of fasting, abstaining, almsgiving, and penance. When I was a child I dreaded it -- giving up something was sooooooooooo hard, and those fried egg sandwiches Mom made for our lunches were enough to make me cry (no offense to Mom. There were not a lot of vegetarian options available to mainstream America at the time, and even if there were, I'm not sure we would have eaten them. That limited her to egg sandwiches, the occasional grilled cheese, and fish sticks.) What I truly appreciate NOW -- and what I'm trying to teach my children -- is that we're not just giving up things to make us miserable. We are learning to control our desires... learning to have greater self-control... and offering our "little sacrifices" to the Lord just because we love Him. I have told them that if they are used to making sacrifices and saying "no" to things that are appealing to them, they will be better equipped to say "no" when they are faced with serious temptation later in life.

Too often I run on "auto-pilot." I see chocolate, and I eat it. I get the smallest craving for chips... or to check my email... or to watch TV... or to have a glass of wine, and I do it. There is very little thought behind it, and therefore my spirit is just dumbly following along with whatever my body craves. I may know that prayer in the morning is what I should do, but that desire for sleep kicks in and I snuggle back under the covers. This Lenten season is such a blessing, because it is a spiritual jolt -- a reminder that my will, my spirit, needs to call the shots around here... not my fleeting cravings or emotions.

Something that has REALLY helped me over the past years has been the Friday abstinence (and can someone tell me why I, cradle Catholic that I am, did not learn about this until a few years ago???) That for me has been like a "mini-Lent" every week. I can't get too comfortable with doing things my way when I am hit with that pause every Friday.

In the spirit of Lent, I'd like to share with you a book I just found in our library. Oddly enough, it's called Give it Up! My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less by Mary Carlomagno. Each month she gave up something cold turkey -- cell phone, TV, coffee, eating out, etc. in an attempt to simplify her life and relearn what is truly important. None of what she gave up would be considered "bad things" in and of themselves (with the exception of swearing), but as she gave up something every month she saw what a hold that particular thing had on her life, and how it enslaved her, in a way. Her month without TV opened up a world of free time and hours to devote to reading. Her month without newspapers gave her the opportunity to start the morning with poetry instead, which inspired her throughout the day.

It's a very quick read and will give everyone an idea or two of things in their own lives that could be holding them captive.

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