what are you giving up for Lent?

So, I don’t know if you even know this, what with all the Valentine’s Day preparations you probably have going on, but Lent started yesterday. Way early this year. I only got the heads up because my kids go to an Episcopalian school. Apparently this was the earliest Ash Wednesday since 1913? All I know is, we all lost an April break from school this year.

I went to the liturgy yesterday morning at my kids’ school and got the ashes on my forehead. I didn’t see a single other person yesterday with ashes. Admittedly, I don’t get out much. Still, that really surprised me, and I wondered if the Starbucks barista thought I just had some newspaper schmutz on my forehead, and I guess it means I’m not in Scranton anymore.

I’m not the most observant of Catholics– after all, I got ashes from an Episcopalian minister– but I love Lent. I love the opportunity to go cold turkey on something I love too well, and explore why it was so important to me in the first place. Back when I was single, I gave up clothes shopping. I was wasting a lot of time browsing through the sale racks at Banana Republic (ah, to have those hours back now). Four years ago, I gave up urbanbaby.com, to which I was well and truly addicted, and thank goodness, broke the thrall that the sanctimommies there held over me.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to give up this year, and so I asked Cooper, who is wise beyond his years, and unflinching in his honesty. (Recently he cocked his head and looked at me, while I was wearing a tight shirt, and said, “Mommy, it’s funny. Buzz you don’t have a baby in your tummy anymore, but you still look a little bit pregmint.” Let’s be honest, he was doing me a favor. I thought I looked good in that shirt.)

“So what do you think I should give up for Lent?” I asked Cooper on our walk home from school, after explaining to him what “Lent” was, and reassuring him that five-year-olds were not required to participate.

“The scones at the Golden Pear,” he said, without hesitation. Wow, was he right. The Golden Pear is a bakery in the town where we have a summer house. So they are not a frequent indulgence for me, in the off-season. But I think I literally ate one every day this past summer, while I really was still pregmint. Talk about loving something too well.

“Perfect!” I said. “No muffins, no scones, no baked goods.”

“No treats!” Cooper generalized, helpfully.

“Well.” I hedged. “I mean, I can have, like, some licorice or something. Just not something from a bakery.”

“AND you should give up coffee!” Cooper trumpeted.

“Now, now, l-let’s not get crazy,” I said.

“If I had to give up something I really loved,” Cooper continued, “I would stop playing with baby Maddie.”

“Aw, sweetheart. I know God wouldn’t want you to do that,” I said, giving him a squeeze. “And God doesn’t want me to give up coffee, either. Because I need it to be a good mommy.”

So baked goods it was. Then today I ran into a friend of mine on the street, pushing her two-year-old home in his stroller. He was eating a Mr. Goodbar as big as his head. “Do you know it’s Lent?” she said, grabbing my arm.

“Actually, I do,” I replied.

“I am COMPLETELY giving up chocolate,” she said. “Between that, and the diuretics I’m taking, I’ll lose at least eight pounds.”

“You’re right!” I said. “I’m giving up chocolate too!”

Upon further reflection, however, I have decided that there may be something wrong with this picture. If I’m giving up baked goods and chocolate, not as a sacrifice, but as a way to lose weight, then Lent becomes just another opportunity for my perfectionist control freak self to take over. Giving things up for Lent should be about becoming a better person on the inside, not on the outside.

I do think giving up coffee may make me a worse person on the inside, so I’m sticking with it. And I’m still giving up the baked goods. If I look less pregmint in forty days, then that will be a good thing. But I’ve also decided to give up gossiping. I’m not even sure I know how. But THAT will be a sacrifice.