Tuesday night Z came home from the store with a bag full of ice cream, chocolate, and potato chips to celebrate Fat Tuesday. We weren’t exactly throwing Mardi Gras beads at each other so it wasn’t really a celebration, but Z is a Lent observer, and the idea of giving up his beloved ice cream for the next six weeks made the junk food buffet a necessity.
Z is good this way: making a promise and keeping it. He’ll only eat ice cream for the next six weeks if he forgets about his vow, and then he won’t let himself off the hook with a shrug. Instead, he’ll extend his frozen dairy fast by one day. Mostly though, he won’t forget.
I, on the other hand, don’t participate. Last night when Z and I were at iHop, the table of people next to us were sporting big black ash crosses on their foreheads as they devoured pancakes and talked about what they’d given up for Lent, and I admit, there is part of me that is envious of that devotion and that adherence to tradition. But I kind of stink at those sorts of things, and it seems better not to set myself up for failure.
When I was growing up, Mom and I would give our favorite treats up for Lent, but it inevitably felt more like a diet than a religious observance, and mostly I was crabby about it. My last Lenten observance was when I was nine or ten. I’d given up all manner of sweet treats and walked around for a couple of days with a penitent, mournful look on my face that had nothing to do with God and everything to do with how much I wanted a Pop-tart.
That year, my former second-grade teacher had decided that she and Mom were friends and also that we would drive to a neighboring city to meet her twin sister. I remember virtually nothing about the day except I was bored and ready to go home almost as soon as we got there. The twin’s apartment was beige and under-stimulating, as was the adult conversation, and the novelty of seeing my former teacher’s look-alike quickly wore off. But then the twin brought out a plate with Girl Scout cookies on it. In my memory, the room was like a blank canvas with no art, no knickknacks on the coffee table, nothing on which to focus my attention other than the chocolaty, biscuity goodness that sat before me on a white plate.
It is no accident that Girl Scout cookies are delivered roughly around the time that Lent begins. Satan is clearly a consultant for the Girl Scouts of America and has a hand in the cookie delivery schedule.
I lasted about five minutes. Once I caved to temptation, my next battle was eating like a lady and not inhaling all the cookies on the white plate. It was one thing to disappoint Jesus, but I really didn’t want my former second grade teacher to think I was a graceless pig. Jesus would forgive, but Miss B might gossip about me in the teacher’s lounge and I had this good girl image to uphold. It and good penmanship were the main things I had going for me.
I felt bad about this failure. Not because I’d let God down. I was pretty sure God had other things to worry about, what with the Energy Crisis and the killer bees and various other world events that haunted the edges of my childhood and that I hoped He was working on. No, I felt bad because I realized as I bit into that first Thin Mint, that I would probably always be a person who couldn’t keep promises to herself, particularly where sugary goodness was involved. It seemed better not to set myself up for failure in the future, so I resolved not to observe Lent ever again.
Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, because that vow I’ve actually stuck with.