Tuesday seems like weeks ago. Some call it “Fat Tuesday” (esp. those pancake-bingers partying hard at Mardi Gras) but to me, it’s just the last day of my food free-for-all. My wife and I decided to give up “flour” for Lent (more on that in a minute) so Tuesday night we overate at our favorite Mexican restaurant. Chips and salsa (the chips a hybrid of corn and flour). Enchiladas and tacos wrapped in big, fluffy flour tortillas. Sopapillas fried from puffy flour tortillas, drenched in honey. Big, frosty margaritas to wash it all down. It was kind of a fiesta final before Lent.
Now it’s Ash Wednesday as I type and I’m already obsessing about my forbidden flour. This morning’s breakfast was hardly a fiesta – coffee and a protein shake. Not a tablespoon of flour to be found anywhere. My upcoming fever dreams will be liberally dusted with flour. I’ll have fantasies of consuming an entire bakery case (shelves and all), eating my way out of a gigantic loaf of bread, or parking my mouth below the pasta-maker while endlessly turning the crank. I’m looking at all the snow outside my office window right now. It looks exactly like white flour. It probably IS white flour. Hang on, I’ll be right back…
As of today, we’ve officially started the season of Lent again. The next forty-odd days and nights are gonna be the usual challenge. Did you know the Old English translation of “Lent” is “spring season”? How that computes with all the flour I’m seeing outside my windows right now is beyond me. More to today’s point, Ash Wednesday is the deadline to answer the question, “What am I giving up for the next seven weeks?”
Lent, as even non-Christians know, is the religious season of preparation leading up to Easter. It’s the time to reflect inward, with more attention to prayer and the Good Book, less attention to “shortcomings” (sins, people), more charitable service to others, and finally, a cruel little something called “self-denial”. Self-denial is anything you want it to be, but the idea is to subtract from your daily equation: something you don’t need but you’ll struggle to be without. Consider seven popular choices for 2021:
- Chocolate. Maybe this one’s popular because it’s the easy way out. Chocolate’s often in my desserts, occasionally in my protein shakes, and every-now-and-then in my mid-afternoon pick-me-ups. But I can certainly do without the sweet stuff for forty days. C’mon, people used to give up food for Lent! A little chocolate’s not really what the Big Guy had in mind.
- Meat. Christians forego meat on Lenten Fridays anyway but some choose to give it up the whole way. Not me. If I’m giving up flour, I’ve got to have meat-and-potatoes to soften the blow of all my bread, pasta, and baked goods currently on hiatus. For Pete’s sake, I can’t even have chicken noodle soup! What was I thinking?
- Smoking or Drinking. Maybe these are your vices but they’re not mine, so either would be a Lenten cop-out. I enjoy the occasional glass of wine or a beer, sure, but putting them on the shelf for the next month or so? Hardly a stretch.
- Coffee. Okay, we just shifted from first to fourth gear. There is nothing – NOTHING – to fill the vast and infinite void left behind by my morning cup of joe. I understand self-denial but don’t turn me into a raging lunatic. Force me to give up coffee for Lent and I’ll have a newfound respect for the next option, which is…
- Sleeping In. Normally this would be another cop-out for me because I’m one of those annoying morning people. But deny me my coffee and I’ll gladly hibernate until early afternoon – every day until Easter.
- Social Media. I dropped Facebook late last year. I’m only on Instagram a couple of times a week. I have no Twitter feed. I get it – it’s 2021 – but this one’s a no-brainer for me. I mean seriously, just give me a call.
- Speaking Poorly about Others. I asked my sister-in-law what she was giving up for Lent and she said, “I’m going to be nice to others”. That gave me a good laugh until I found this item on the list. My sister-in-law has plenty of company. So, consider: could YOU give up airing dirty laundry for forty days?
One more thing about Lent. Each of the liturgical seasons has a color, and Lent’s is purple. You’ll see a lot of it in churches, cathedrals, and flower arrangements this month and next. I like purple enough, but ask me to name purple items and all I come up with is eggplant (the nightmare vegetable of my youth), figs (the nightmare fruit of my youth), grapes (I prefer the green ones), cauliflower (yep, it comes in colors), and lavender and amethysts, both of which I have little use for. Purple is about as smart a choice for Lent as giving up flour.
In conclusion, I could use your prayers as I endure my forty-day flour fast. By late March my car tires will look like doughnuts and my paperback novel a nice, thick Pop-Tart. Toss me a Frisbee and I’ll slather it in syrup and devour it like a pancake. Put your pasta under lock and key. Guard your pizza with your life. I’m coming for your cupcakes.