It’s 8:01–do you know where your chocolate chips are?
My friend Jessica’s terrific piece on giving up sugar for Lent just aired on KQED’s Perspectives. It’s a humorous contemplation of what sacrifices Catholics like Jessica are willing to make in this season of resurrection.
The daughter of a lapsed Catholic and never-practicing Jew, I was raised as a Unitarian. This was on the more traditional East Coast, where we at least had churches with steeples and pews instead of fellowship rooms with folding chairs. Unlike the twice-a-year attendees our minister derided as the “Christmas and Easter crowd,” we were devout Unitarians by virtue of going to church more often than not. My religious education focused on science, sex education, and the belief that if Jesus were around in our day, he would be a hippie. Instead of sacraments, we had an interpretive dance choir of nubile teenage girls draped in scanty pastel crepe. Easter meant not sacrifice, but showing off a new spring outfit and downing drugstore chocolate.
Despite these perks, I envied my Catholic friends, particularly when they got to miss school at the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, returning the next day with huge black smudges on their foreheads. Were these related to the black marks on the sole I was always checking the bottom of my feet for? I knew how long it took for a beam of light to travel from the sun to the earth, but I was confused about spiritual matters.
As it turns out, the soft-core dogma of Unitarianism provides a soft landing for those who stray from the faith. Lapsed Catholics like my mother lose all of the faith but none of the beliefs. Stripped of comfort, my mother was beset by guilt, shame, and the threat of eternal damnation her entire life. But what does a lapsed Unitarian suffer—the renunciation of potlucks?
In my case, renouncing potlucks might be a good idea. They may not be the Devil’s spawn, but they are surely the curse of the Lifetime Weight Watcher, my new Sabbath calling of the last 13 years. Which brings me back to Lent, in case you were wondering.
My Weight Watchers leader Linda is, like my friend Jessica, an old-school Catholic with a serious sweet tooth. Linda regales us with hilarious stories of her 40+ days in the wilderness bereft of whatever she’s given up for Lent. Usually it’s chocolate. This year it’s sugar. Two years ago she told us that her 10-year-old daughter was giving up rolling her eyes for Lent. That one caused me to fall out of my chair laughing, but it also inspired me. First off, could I somehow introduce the concept of Lent to my then-teenaged daughters before their eyes rolled right out of their sockets? Second, what could I give up for the 40+ days of Lent to tame the food demons that still threatened to take me down a decade after more or less following the program?
That first time, I decided to give up dark-chocolate-covered almonds, which I loved to pilfer from the Trader Joe’s container in my husband Jonathan’s nightstand. I put them there to avoid seeing them in the kitchen every 10 minutes, but the chocolate almonds still called to me. Possibly their siren song was louder from upstairs—I used to love to pilfer Junior Mints from my mother’s bedside stand, the minty bite enhanced by the frisson of transgression. The ritual of the stolen candies commands quite a place in my psyche as well as my waistline. Perhaps it was time for the ultimate sacrifice, or at least the experiment in habit-breaking that Lent affords.
So for 40+ days I resisted temptation. When Lent was over, I went back to my old ways, though at a slower pace, sometimes even able to stick to the bargain I’d struck with myself, sucking on just one chocolate-covered almond. I noticed that they didn’t taste all that good—we’re talking Trader Joe’s, not Godiva—but I’m kind of a chocolate whore, no doubt hearkening back to waxy chocolate rabbits from Easter baskets past. So I gave up chocolate-covered almonds again for my second year of Weight Watchers Lent.
It worked. I had found the sacred secret to secular habit-breaking. No longer was I tempted to raid my husband’s supply, even for the cheap thrill of transgression. Not that Jonathan noticed—as a person with no food issues except for the pathological behavior of eating when he is hungry and stopping when he is satisfied, Jonathan forgot about the chocolate-covered almonds until rummaging around for his misplaced library card.
“You don’t need to buy these anymore,” Jonathan said. “They’re not very good.” Now he tells me!
Having mastered Level One of the Lenten challenge, I stepped up my game this year. I would never be so foolhardy as Jessica or Linda to give up sugar altogether—we lapsed Unitarians are not made of such strong stuff. But I did try to break two habits this year: eating chocolate chips out of an open bag (I’m perfectly safe from the approximately 30 unopened bags of Ghirardelli semi-sweet in the cupboard), and snacking after 8:00 p.m. I have lapsed a little, but it was mostly on Sundays, which I understand is now exempt from the strictures of Lent. Religious purists sniff at this sanctioned laxity the way baseball purists sniffed when designated hitters were introduced to major league baseball.
But hey, I’m a lapsed Unitarian—what’s a little failed renunciation to me?
What have you given up for Lent? How do you go about breaking a habit?