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