Yesterday I ate coffee and beignets for breakfast, I had three chicken wings for an early lunch, and I happily devoured a mug of homemade gumbo for dinner.
As I sat back on my couch to unwind, I decided to conclude my day with my biggest vice of all, season 4 of the most ignorant show on television, Basketball Wives.
Why did I allow myself to enjoy a full day of gluttony, reality television, and four cups of coffee?
Yes, you guessed it….because it was Mardi Gras!
When most people think of Mardi Gras, they think of New Orleans, colorful beads, and breast-revealing college girls. Perhaps a few people may make the connection between Bourbon Street and the world-famous Carnival celebration in Rio. Unfortunately, the purpose of both occasions, which is to prepare one for the Lenten season, becomes lost in the multitude of crab legs, shrimp, and rum punch that people enjoyed yesterday.
Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) is the Tuesday that precedes for Lenten season for Catholics and many protestant Christians. A day of true indulgence, its purpose is to allow a practitioner an opportunity to essentially “get it in” and overindulge in all things before 40 days and 40 nights of sacrifice (i.e. Lent).
In contrast, Lent is observed in accordance with Christian tradition as a way to remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who fasted for forty days and forty nights prior to the beginning of his ministry. This period of prayer, penance, repentance, and self-denial, culminates with Easter, the celebration of the “risen Christ” with all the fixings of turkey, dressing, yams, and lots of wine.
If you are reading this and are fearful of going 40 days and nights only on crackers and water, fear not! Most people only give up one or two things, but the key is to give up something that will truly be a sacrifice for you to go without.
Still not convinced that this is something that you should try? Imagine the following scenario:
Have you ever missed breakfast because you were rushing out of the house to get the kids to school, and subsequently skipped lunch because you were working to complete a task?
All day, you smell the sweet aroma of your coworker’s turkey burger (or pork chop sandwich). You hear your cube-mate dictate the best way to make chicken chili. After a while, as you continue to type away on your computer, you think:
“Just keep going…in an hour I can leave knowing that I’ve done my work. When I’m done, I’m going to get some rib tips, with some cupcakes...and a cheesecake, with a bottle of wine.”
Finally, you press “send” on the assignment. You grab your coat and head for the door. As you speed to your nearest barbeque joint, you imagine the taste of the sauce. You hope that your spouse didn’t drink the last of the beer/wine/mango juice and you hope your kids didn’t eat the last cupcake.
When you get home, you prepare yourself to enjoy your meal – the meal you worked hard for and the meal you sacrificed hours of stomach pains to wait for. You sit at your table, roll up your sleeves, and take a bite. The first few bites are decedent, even magical. But after eating one third of your meal, you look down and realize that you are already full and begin to wonder why you thought ribtips and cupcakes made for a good meal anyway. You swear off ribs. You swear off cupcakes. You decide to join your neighborhood gym.
This is essentially what Lent does for people who practice it.
Initially, it’s a struggle and there are more reasons to pick up that cigarette, or eat that pulled pork sandwich than not. Eventually, momentum takes over, and after the first week you actually start to believe in the purpose behind your sacrifice so you keep going. Temptation continues to creep in, but an invisible force - be it God, Jesus, Moses, or Oprah – reminds you that you are closer to the finish line than where you began.
Eventually, you make it to your goal - forty days and nights without something that you knew you had no business doing, or eating, or drinking in the first place. When it’s all over, you may be convinced that you can’t wait to run back into your vice’s arms. Yet, you begin to consider that if you can make it 40 days and nights, perhaps you don’t need that “thing” anyway. Or if you do decide to indulge, you are surprised because you don’t indulge as much.
Lent is the ultimate “Jedi Mind Trick”.
Don’t get me wrong, Lent is not for the meek or the weak of heart. I’ve gone many years failing to meet my goal to give up Starbucks, Facebook, wine, and cursing. But, if you are looking for an opportunity to defeat your inner antagonist, I think there are lessons in the sacrifice that Lent calls for that can benefit everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike.