Today is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday the day that for many is the “last hurrah” before the Lenten season starts – 40 days of sacrifice and repentance leading up to Easter. Traditionally, many people “give up” something during this period – some vice or bad habit that they will sacrificially do without during the weekdays between Ash Wednesday and Easter. When I was a little girl, my mother gave up sweets, probably the most popular Lenten sacrifice. I was in the 6th grade when I decided to join her. I was fine the first two weeks, until one day I took a piece of hard candy from one of my classmates on the school bus. I wasn’t even halfway through it when I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to eat any sweets. Petrified, I quickly spit it out, certain I was IMMEDIATELY going to HELL! Needless to say, I was extremely diligent for the rest of Lent. Even when my mother told me it was ok to eat sweets on the weekends during Lent, I wasn’t taking ANY chances with the Lord and His wrath!
My late grandfather, a Methodist minister, often cautioned his parishioners on their Lenten decisions. He would ask rhetorically, why give up a bad habit that you’re just going to pick back up after Easter? Similarly, my Father-in-law, also a Methodist minister, would encourage members of the church to go beyond giving up their favorite food or drink. “Why not give up things like lying and backbiting?” I can hear him say in his slow Alabama drawl. So for many years, I treated Lent like my annual family Christmas list…pay attention all year long to what is needed. One year, my father called me out on my stress level. He pointed out that for the last several months, every time I talked to him, I talked about how stressed out I was. I didn’t even realize how much I talked about my stress. Well it’s hard to actually give up stress, but I decided to take the word ‘stress’ out of my vocabulary. Sounds crazy, but it actually worked. Sometimes we talk ourselves into being stressed out. Also, I realized that when I focused on taking out the word, I actually looked at what was causing the stress and I was able to tackle the stressful situation. Similarly, the next year, I took the word ‘tired’ out of my vocabulary, with similar results. Periodically I need to revisit those exercises, even outside the context of Lent. This year I have a few things I need to remove and some minor behaviors I need to keep in check.
So…there are less than 24 hours left…what are YOU giving up?