Lent is coming, ladies and gentlemen, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I’m going to sacrifice this year, as well as to doing a little something extra each day. My first, instinctive plan was to give up exercising, and perhaps drink a little extra wine, but even I know that’s lame. In order to give up exercise, you actually have to be exercising in the first place. Forcing myself to drink more wine, although admittedly a huge sacrifice, could, in actuality, result in my death by Easter, and I just don’t think the whole Lent thing is intended to force mass extinction … but, maybe that’s just me.
My mother and sister always give up chocolate. Always. Every year, chocolate. This is because they truly love chocolate, and it’s a real sacrifice, and I understand that, but honestly, I’m thinking the Lord could be getting a bit bored with this, you know?
“Wow, Susan’s not eating the hot fudge ball!”
“And Mom wouldn’t eat a chocolate muffin!”
My brother Jimmy always has been much more adventurous when it comes to his Lenten resolutions. One year, Jimmy gave up swiping suckers from Morgan’s Drugstore, which he couldn’t tell anyone because then they’d know he’d been swiping suckers from Morgan’s Drugstore. So, when people asked him what he was doing for Lent, Jimmy responded that it was private, but everyone thought he was lazy, or lying … not that I ever said that. (Lenten sacrifice was a very big deal in our Catholic school, with enormous competition, which Mary Jo VanHyde always “won,” because she lived about 15 feet from the church, so she could go every morning without breaking a sweat, and say a whole rosary there, and she gave up everything sweet, and she resolved to get straight A’s, and got them. Whatever, like I’d even want to be Saint Mary Jo! … (Ahem) … sorry, that was very ungracious and un-Lent-ish of me.)
After Lent, Jimmy told me what he’d been doing — he knew of a few very minor infractions on my part, so I wasn’t going to rat him out — and I was appropriately awed, but I told him I didn’t think giving up something that you shouldn’t be doing anyway was exactly what God had in mind. Reverting to a time-tested example, I instructed, extremely piously: What if a bank robber decided to give up robbing banks for Lent, would that be proper?
Jimmy said, extremely piously, “Duh.” But, I think I made my point.
I remember one Lent when my Dad and I decided to get up really early every morning and go to church together before breakfast, which I thought was hugely grown up, since it was still very dark in the morning and very snowy, and only extremely grown-up young ladies could be allowed to do such a thing. I even remember the scent of the incense as it drifted over the congregation (please, besides the two of us, the congregation consisted of Mrs. Trapp, the Ridlebachs, a few assorted nuns, and naturally, Mary Jo VanHyde). I believed that was the actual “smell” of “holiness.” Plus, it always reminded me that Mass was almost over, which meant hot cocoa and a toast-and-bacon sandwich … not that I wasn’t praying like crazy, of course.
One year I decided not to hit or hurt a single brother or sister. It was the hardest six weeks of my life, including puberty. Jimmy was my grandparents’ first grandson, and while I knew they loved me just as much, he still got way better presents for things like getting our tonsils out: Jimmy, a real live frog; me, a blue gumball-machine ring. (This made him extremely hit-worthy, in my book.)
My sister Karen was always pushing the limits, sneaking out to parties at night and stuffing pillows under her blankets while I worried myself sick that she’d be murdered … or have a really fabulous time. (Whack.)
My sister Susan, as I’ve indicated numerous times, was the always-annoying Miss Perfect, who told on everyone, did nothing wrong, was never punished and was quite obviously Mom and Dad’s favorite. (The kind of sister a sister yearns to trip.)
And, baby brother John was just aggravating, spoiled and likely to tell on you if you tried to stuff him down the clothes chute … even though I never did that, Mom. (Hit, hit, hit!)
But, I soldiered on that entire Lenten season, hungering for spring, consistently pointing out to God every time I denied my totally deserved retribution toward one sibling or another. Then, bright and early Easter morning, I felt cleansed … renewed … at peace. And, I ate the head off every one of their giant chocolate bunnies. God understood.
Vicki Wentz’s column, which appears here on Sundays, is published in newspapers across the country. She is a high school teacher who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. Readers may contact her at email@example.com.