You all know by now that the one consistent thing about my blog is that I don’t seem to have a filter. Which means I often tell you the most ridiculous, idiotic things about myself.
Today will be no exception.
First of all, it wasn’t until quite late in life that I realized Lenten obligations was a Catholic thing. I was in college before I realized that not all Christians prayed the rosary. In other words, I may have lived a bit of a sheltered life. But Lent was such a big deal in our lives growing up, and since I went to a Catholic school and most (if not all) of my friends were Catholic… it just never really occurred to me that it didn’t hold the same requirements in all Christian denominations.
When I was little the thing I remember most about Lent wasn’t necessarily what we gave up (candy, gum, pop, etc.), it was more about the way we would eat. On Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent there was no eating meat and no eating in between meals. And when you’re a kid and eating supper, thinking about not eating again until breakfast seemed like the most insane notion in the world.
We were a family that had snacks in the evening… ice cream or popcorn or something… so dinner time turned into extended sessions as we all took just one more helping of this or one more helping of that. The rule was that once you left the table you were done, so it was often the dilemma of deciding to go in the other room to watch Dallas and Falcon Crest… or show of all shows, Knots Landing… or stay at the table for one more helping of tuna casserole to tide us over for the rest of the night.
We maybe needed a refresher course about the starving children in Africa, but at the time we saw it as a huge sacrifice.
Not eating meat wasn’t as difficult because we happened to love salmon patties and tuna casserole and creamed asparagus over toast. No, not eating meat was only a problem when I wasn’t sure what meat was.
There was one Friday in Lent when my brother Jerry and I were in town and stopped by McDonald’s for supper. He reminded me it was Friday and that we couldn’t eat meat, we went inside, ordered and went to the car with our bags of food. He pulled out his fish sandwich and looked at me funny when I pulled out my chicken sandwich.
“I told you it’s Friday and not to order meat,” he scolded.
“I didn’t!” I exclaimed. “I ordered chicken!”
[This obviously would be another one of those idiot moments… I swear to God I’ve never been blonde. Although at least then I’d have an excuse…]
I choked down the chicken sandwich and worried the rest of the night about the “meat” now sitting in my stomach. A few extra Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s were inevitably said that night… I was a kid that did not suffer guilt lightly.
The great thing about our household is that we didn’t follow rules without knowing why. Mom and Dad were good at talking to us about how we should decide what to do for Lent. We understood that we needed to give up something that wouldn’t be easy, that would be an actual sacrifice, so that we could keep ourselves more mindful of the sacrifices Jesus made for us. A little rumble in our bellies was a good way to bring our focus back to the reason it was rumbling… giving up ice cream or chocolate wasn’t just something we all compared notes about at school, it was something that reminded us every time we reached for it and pulled our hands back that our sacrifice was small compared to His.
As I got older, the things that were given up for Lent were more to bring focus on ways to better myself… things that could be let go of and not picked back up after 40 days was the intention… ways to better my life and keep me on course for better living. And some years it wasn’t about giving up, but rather doing something… or both. There were years I joined a bible study or helped in the kitchen at the Catholic Worker House or became more dedicated to praying the rosary every night. Some of those habits I still continue and some fell by the wayside, but every Lenten season is a chance to more purposefully recognize the suffering on the cross and the ways our own lives could be changed to be more reflective of Jesus.
This year I’m not giving anything up, but there are things I want to work on that I have had a hard time committing to up to this point. For my physical self: physical therapy. For my spiritual self: scheduled, set-aside time with specific prayer for others rather than just random moments. For service: ways I plan to be more present to others who may need encouragement.
This year I’m making it about doing, becoming and reaching out. I know (now) that a Lenten sacrifice isn’t an obligation for everyone, but if any of you want to make a commitment of your own until Easter, leave your comment with your intentions and I’ll put you on my list to pray for.
And remember, it’s Friday. NO CHICKEN.