Spiritual Spring Cleaning

22 Feb

I know this may sound strange, but I love the season of Lent.  Ever since I was a teenager, I marveled at the discipline of my Catholic friends, and growing up on the western side of Cincinnati, I had more Catholic friends than Protestant.  I went to mass nearly every week because my best friend worked Sundays and had to make sure she attended mass before we could go out for the evening. And then there was Lent.  Every year, my friends gave up the things they loved most for 6 weeks, which included gum, French fries, pizza and ice cream just to name a few, and that was in addition to giving up meat on Fridays.  For the most part, the rest of us tried to avoid tempting our friends, but we frequented pizza and burger joints, so sometimes, they just had to suffer.  And they did.  And they survived.  And I was amazed.

You see, I was an instant gratification kind of kid and teen.  I struggled with seeing anything long term.  Since my son’s ADHD diagnosis, I now know why I may have had those issues, but the thought of giving up anything for six weeks seemed like an eternity.  It seemed like those people were so much better and purer than me.  I even remember one of my friends being upset because her mom had sloppy joes cooking in the crock pot and it was a Lenten Friday. It all seemed so spiritual and grown up and foreign, and I wanted to be like those friends of mine, but I wasn’t.  Then something happened to change all that.  I grew up and married a Catholic man with a very Catholic family, and I started to give things up for Lent.

Most of my husband’s family gives up candy for Lent and some of them give up sweets of all kinds.  That made for a few frustrating birthday parties for my boys, two of whom are born in March.  I just couldn’t understand how someone could give up something like sweets when they knew that they would be attending a birthday party.  I just didn’t get it, until the year I gave up cigarettes.  I gave up cigarettes on March 11, 1994, which wasn’t the first day of Lent, but it was during Lent.  I know the date because it was the day my first son was born.  Yes, I knew the risks of smoking while pregnant, but addictions are powerful, and I had cut down to the number my doctor asked, which was 5 per day.  I took one look at that sweet baby and realized I didn’t want his pink little lungs to ever be anything but pink, so I quit smoking for my child, and it was hard.  On the worst days, I stood on my porch and looked at the market a half block away and thought about walking over and buying a pack, but I didn’t because I just knew how disappointed my husband, who detested smoke, would be.  Then I would think about those pink lungs and that disappointed face until I knew that quitting was the only option.  Today, nearly eighteen years later, it is still my proudest accomplishment and one of my most difficult. That accomplishment also helped me understand Lenten fasting.

Giving something up isn’t a punishment.  It isn’t about depriving yourself.  Fasting, in all of its forms, is a form of spiritual growth.  It’s a path to a stronger you.  It gives you courage and purpose.  In Lent, we give up something that we enjoy to become a better person.  Sometimes, when Lent is over, we continue to partake of the thing we’ve given up, which is why my husband has been known to eat a meatball hoagie for Easter breakfast.  Sometimes, we walk away from a bad habit and never look back, but in any case, we are changed and somehow purer of spirit for even taking the journey.  This year, it’s computer games for me.  I might return to them after Easter, but I might find something much more spiritual and/or productive to take their place.  Since hope springs eternal, at least in my Universe, there’s always a chance. Thanks for being you and have a great day!

For more information on Lent and Ash Wednesday read http://www.examiner.com/family-holidays-in-cincinnati/ash-wednesday-traditions-and-not-so-traditional-services

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