A Fat Tuesday Binge = Ash Wednesday Guilt

Today is Fat Tuesday, which is the French translation for Mardi Gras. (For the over 50 women like me flirting with menopause, every day is Fat Tuesday! Ah, but that’s a blog for another day.)

Fat Tuesday’s roots lie in the Christian calendar and is considered the “last hurrah” before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. That’s why New Orleans is a mecca for raucous behavior and uncensored debauchery on Fat Tuesday. All those party revelers know that the fun ends abruptly at midnight which is generally when the hangovers kick in followed by heaping helpings of guilt and shame.

The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, and self-denial. Being raised in a traditional Catholic home, my siblings and I were encouraged to give something up in sacrifice during the period of Lent. Upon reflection, I’d wager my childish sacrifice of ice cream during the Lenten period had very little to do with penitential preparation, but was likely motivated by the scorn of the catechism nuns. Sister Mary Scary, the knuckle rapper didn’t take kindly to non-participants.

Personal sacrifice during Lent is something that’s stuck with me through the years and a practice I still observe. Over the years a typical Lent sacrifice for me generally included some sort of food or drink. The Diet Coke year was a particularly tough year as I used to be horribly addicted to diet soda, much like a nicotine or coffee addict. And of course any year that requires me sacrificially laying down my love for say – pizza, chocolate or sugar, well let’s just say those were years my immediate family members likely suffered nearly as much as I.

Back in the day, for me Fat Tuesday was all about pigging out on my favorite food like a grizzly bear preparing to hunker down for winter hibernation. My Fat Tuesday pig outs were legendary. With that kind of pre-Lent preparation, abstaining for 40 days became more about purging my body of the excesses of Fat Tuesday rather than sacrificial suffering or drawing closer to God. With that kind of “sacrifice” Easter Sunday became all about “catch-up” bingeing rather than an appreciation for what God had been trying to teach me during the preceding 40-day fast.

The past few years as my commitment to Christ has deepened, however, I’ve used the words of King David to guide me when making my decision regarding my Lenten sacrifice. But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the LORD my God that have cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24 NLT)

King David’s words remind us that giving without sacrifice isn’t really worth the effort and not really giving at all. For me to give up my something that I could do without anyway such as pizza or TV, really isn’t helping me to grow spiritually. However, when I choose to spend 40 days fasting from worry or negative self-talk, I know success can only be achieved through prayer, repentance and Scripture reading.

Fasting from lifelong bad habits or behaviors require much sacrifice on my part because those bad attitudes and behaviors have become part of my personality. My addiction to diet soda or The Housewives of Orange County … not so much. Those are acquired tastes, unlike my negative self-worth which is rooted and grounded in my emotionally abusive, dysfunctional childhood.

Maybe it’s just me, but the closer I get to God, the more I’m aware of my short-comings and how much I have yet to learn. For this reason, each Lenten season finds me with multiple choices regarding which bad habit or behavior to surrender for the 40-day period. Whether I give up my control issues, sacrifice my negative attitudes – or even surrender my unhealthy addiction to carbohydrates or processed foods, what is important for me, is to give something. Not because it’s a barbaric law of the church but because Father God gave so willingly to me (and to each and every one of us). I can’t repay God for His sacrifice, but I can evolve into a better human being … a better Christian, if I discipline myself to sacrifice for the purpose of self-discovery, repentance and a closer walk with the Father.

16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.  John 3:16-17 (NLT)

The joyful news that He is risen does not change the contemporary world. Still before us lie work, discipline, sacrifice. But the fact of Easter gives us the spiritual power to do the work, accept the discipline, and make the sacrifice. ~Henry Knox Sherrill

It’s Valentine’s Day Tomorrow Too

I went to see the new movie, The Vow this past weekend. This movie has been billed as, the #1 movie in America; a great love story destined to become an instant classic. A MUST SEE. As I sat in the darkened movie theater with the tragic love story unfolding in megawatt Dolby Digital Surround sound, it was hard for me to concentrate on the drama with the competing sobs of young woman crying their eyes out all around me.

Okay, yes it was a sad story, but for whatever reason, be it my age or those dang hormones again, I simply didn’t get it. I wasn’t buying the sensitive portrayal of the Hollywood beefcake eschewing romance and sappy repartee sugary enough for Hallmark greeting cards. I mean, really girls. It’s just a movie, not real life. Men like the one on the giant silver screen are only repeating lines written for them. They aren’t really like that – especially after years of marriage. Sadly though, I fear gullible young women are eating these lies up with big giant spoons – especially today as it’s Valentine’s Day.

Don’t get me wrong … it’s not like I’m immune to romance, it’s just that after 25 years of marriage to the same man, I define romance much differently now than I used to. When my husband and I were dating and even the first couple of years of marriage I used to believe in (and expect) candlelight dinners and flowers. But that was before kids, mortgage payments and real life brought me back down to Earth.

These days my idea of romance is getting up to find that my thoughtful husband has taken the time to unload the dishwasher for me before he left for work. Real romance is getting in my car and noticing that my husband has filled the gas tank and there’s a new sticker on the windshield letting me know that my car has had its 3,000 mile service inspection and necessary oil change. That to me says, “Honey, I love you and care enough about you that I don’t want you to run out of gas or have your car break down somewhere because it’s overdue for scheduled maintenance.”

I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day. To me it seems silly to set aside one specific day a year to declare your undying love for someone. If you have a special someone in your life you should be making the effort to tell them daily that you love them. If my husband is going to bring me flowers or a gift, I’d rather he did it spontaneously without there being a special day on the calendar set aside for love. For this reason, my husband and I rarely celebrate Valentine’s Day.

In order for a marriage to be mutually satisfying for longer than it takes a Hollywood blockbuster to pass through theaters and into DVD release, it’s gonna take a little bit of work – and not just on Valentine’s Day.  Marriage and love relationships are often times hardwork and fraught with an element of messiness and unpredictability.  Hollywood romantic comedies and love stories generally solve difficulties in the allotted 120 minute time frame so they can have a predictable happily ever after ending.

One of the most quoted scriptures at wedding ceremonies is still the best advice when it comes to relationships: 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

Cut your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend a break today if they don’t shower you with Valentine’s chocolates or flowers. Meditate on the truth that love is kind and does not keep a record of wrongs and choose to love them even though you feel slighted.  Real love isn’t about being showy one day a year it’s about showing love all year long … and not just to your significant other.

Valentine’s Day is about love and God tells us to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves.’ Be a Valentine today and tomorrow … and the next day … and the next day and every day that you’re able – because you can and because God loved us first and now it’s our turn.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:9-12 (NIV)

Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love. ~Albert Einstein