Monday, March 19, 2007

God is in the details

The season of Lent, for me, will always symbolize a season of sacrifice. During Lent Christians are asked to fast and abstain from certain wordly pleasures, such as meat or alcohol. As young children attending Catholic elementary school we were encouraged to give up something that we loved for the forty (some odd) days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It would make us stronger Catholics, we were told, we would be closer to Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice for us. It was not uncommon for adults to model this behavior for their children to make the concession easier, or because they too grew up with the same custom. Personally, I always thought it was a waste of my time.

Every year during Lent my mother, the good Catholic she was, would give up her very favorite thing in the world - Chocolate. She would pack up her boxes of hand made chocolates - gifts left over from Christmas, oftentimes - and boxes of Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies and no taste of the sweet would pass her lips. On Easter day my grandmother would put out a large plate of chocolates and only then would my mother indulge. She had proven she could let go of such earthly trappings and now she could celebrate. And celebrate she did in a great orgy of milk chocolates.

My mother led a fairly clean existence - she did not drink, had given up smoking in the 70s, and did not particularly care for gourmet food - so giving up chocolate was a huge sacrifice for her. One year, in 1995, I asked my mother why she continued to give up her chocolate for Lent. What was the purpose? Instead of answering me she instead challenged me to give up something. She questioned if I could be so dedicated. I had long since denounced my place in the Catholic church and it had been years since I had given up anything for Lent (and if we're being honest, even when I tried to I usually failed and gave in about a week before Easter), but I love a challenge. So I gave up that which I had held, still hold, so dear.

I gave up coffee.

It may not seem like a lot and, really, it shouldn't have been too hard. I was only 22 years old and the monkey on my back was still in its infancy. I had worked for years in a coffee shop but it was only since my senior year in college that I had become a slave for the java.

However...

The year before I had taken a job at a local radio station and in the few months before Lent of that year I had been given a position as part of the morning drive-time team. That meant I had to be at work, awake and perky, to be on the air for 5:45am. I usually set my alarm to wake me up by 4:30am.

Half past four in the morning. With no coffee. I'm feeling queasy just thinking about it.

It became a topic of conversation every day during the show. My two on-air co-hosts started laying bets as to when I would finally cave in. I would show up to work and there, at my seat next to my microphone, would be a large, steaming, fragrant cup of coffee. I was low man on the totem pole so during long breaks in the show they would send me across the street to get coffee for them. It became our shtick. When would she finally crack?

But I didn't.

The first week was hell - I was an addict giving up her fix, after all - the headaches were horrible and my personality changed. I was irritable and nasty, which were things I had to hide while on air. And can you imagine not wanting to kill someone who was trying to tempt you with coffee at 6 o'clock in the morning? It was a nightmare. But as the weeks went on it got easier and I started to feel better. When Easter finally - finally! - came I was able to get up and go without my legal drug of choice. I had beaten that monkey into submission. I had proven that I could sacrifice something. My coworkers were in awe of me. Our ten listeners (we were a really small station) congratulated me. My mother was impressed.

That was enough for me.

Like my mother I went back to my vice after Easter of that year, but I seriously cut back my overall caffeine consumption. To this day I only allow myself one, maybe two, cups of coffee a day. And every year during Lent, I think of the time that I proved to my mom - if not to a God that I wasn't sure I believed in - that I could make a sacrifice. It had nothing to do with Christ or Christianity and everything to do with impressing my mother. This time of year that morning cup of joe tastes better, more earned and less needed, and I consider doing it again. Maybe I'll give up coffee again, maybe chocolate, or maybe something else entirely. But with no one I believe in laying down a challenge I doubt that I will.

39 comments:

Jennifer said...

Delurker here. It's amazing how impressing still Mom can overrule just about anything.

I didn't give up anything for Lent this year...I'm pregnant. I've given up enough.

kittenpie said...

I self-check on coffee by slipping at least one day every weekend. Do I feel desperate or dull and grumpy? If so, I must go an extra day without so the habit doesn't take hold of me. Of course, I rarely drink more than one large (okay, LARGE) cup a day, but still. it's nectar of the gods, coffee is.

ECR said...

Impressive! Isn't it amazing what we can do when we put our minds to it? I have no self-motivation whatsoever, so I always need external motivators to get me to do anything non-lazy. I'm blogging every day for lent and I've already missed three days. But I'm not being too hard on myself for those three days because I'm still blogging a hell of a lot more than usual. And that's the point, right--to improve yourself. I'm not sure you need to be a martyr with the whole coffee thing again, though--not unless this time you're going for sainthood ;)

Cate said...

I couldn't give up coffee.

My mom was religious like that, and one year she had us add something rather than give something up. We went to church, for daily Mass, every single day during Lent. That was fun.

I wish religion did mean more to me, but it doesn't.

I do love the coffee, though, and I would have cracked on day one, so congratulations to you.

Lisa said...

This post makes me like you all the more. We both grew up Catholic and had very catholic moms who would give up chocolate every year! And I don't consider myself Catholic anymore either. I never understood WHY they did this either. And on Good Friday we would spend the entire day spring cleaning. We'd clean EVERYTHING -- even if it wasn't dirty -- for good repentance measure.

jen said...

i am in awe. i was just having a Lent discussion with a workmate, the whys of it, and the symbolism of the sacrafice.

and you chose a real one. good for you.

Kyla said...

Wow. Coffee. I think I would stop breathing. *lol*

Her Bad Mother said...

My mother tried to give up coffee for Lent EVERY year, that I can remember, when I was growing up. And every year, EVERY YEAR, she failed.

Lena said...

You are a stronger woman than I.

Coffee? NEVER! Take my zucchini. Take it!

Blog Antagonist said...

I have a very addictive personality. I recently gave up Starbuck's Caramel Machiatos because I just can't do them in moderation and the calories and fat were killing me. I'm exercising regularly again and it seemed foolish to work at burning off all those calories, only to pour them straight down my throat again. There's crack in them, I swear.

It's a good thing I'm not Catholic. Although I will say that as a non Catholic growing up in a predominantly Catholic area, I always felt kinda left out at Lent. Kids are weird.

Blog Antagonist said...

I have a very addictive personality. I recently gave up Starbuck's Caramel Machiatos because I just can't do them in moderation and the calories and fat were killing me. I'm exercising regularly again and it seemed foolish to work at burning off all those calories, only to pour them straight down my throat again. There's crack in them, I swear.

It's a good thing I'm not Catholic. Although I will say that as a non Catholic growing up in a predominantly Catholic area, I always felt kinda left out at Lent. Kids are weird.

Redneck Mommy said...

Your will-power impresses me. I grew up in a Godless home, so I was never aware of this LENT idea...

As an adult, it holds a certain fascination for me. But I'm absolutely positive I would fail if I was asked to give up coffee. I shudder at the thought.

Now, if I was asked to give up cleaning the bathrooms or folding socks, I am fairly sure I'd rock it. Because I LOVE cleaning so much.

No, really, I do!!

LOL!

Great post, Mrs. Chicky.

Emily Snipes said...

I'm Catholic and I gave up Starbucks this Lent. I'm a Starbucks-aholic! So it's been rough....

Pattie said...

I still remember having to give up meat every Friday during Lent (Catholic guilt) I didn't remember that until I ordered a hamburger for lunch last Friday down here in the Bible Belt...ohhh, the shame!

PS: I am freaked out right now. I know your first name....my sister in law was a DJ on a local radio show (in Southern New England)......naaa..it can't be.... could it?
;-)

Oh, The Joys said...

Yeah. I keep it to one-two cups per day... and then I get all jiggy with the black tea and well, enter The Caffeinatrix!!!

Mr Big Dubya said...

Ice cream for me and the missus - and fries.

No Ben and Jerry's; no Edy's; no Friendly's; no Cold Stone. And what's worse? DQ opened one week after Ash Wednesday! Who's freakin' idea was that? The sign said we'll see you in the spring.

Bastards.

MotherBumper said...

You know the only reason I think I made it through my Lent sacrifices was just to prove to my mom that I could do (something). Seriously, I really do think that was it.

Izzy said...

I only drink one cup a day usually but that one cup is the foundation of my entire day. It would be hard to give up, although I did do it for two pregnancies. In any case, you rose to the challenge which is pretty damn cool.

flutter said...

I had to give up coffee, forever.....I am fairly certain murder isn't far behind

Girl con Queso said...

I love this post.

kgirl said...

i'm a jew. we've suffered enough. bring on the chocolate.

Avalon said...

I was raised Cathoic, but I don't consider myself a follower of any organized religion now. However, to please my Catholic Mother,I have decided to give something up for Lent.


I give up being nice to anyone.

Kelly said...

I didn't even give up caffeine during my pregnancies, or breastfeeding, so I'm not sure I could do it for Lent.

But I also have about zero willpower, so your giving up a beloved beverage with all its myriad of drug-like powers was beyond impressive.

Nancy said...

I could give up chocolate. I could give up wine. I could give up ice cream.

But I could not, COULD NOT give up coffee. Even when I was pregnant -- I had to have my daily decaf (and occasionally the full-test stuff). It's mental for me.

So yes, I am definitely impressed at your fortitude in giving up coffee (especially in the face of your tormenters!)

Velma said...

Compared to my incredibly caffeinated in-laws, I'm a wuss when it comes to coffee and tea consumption. But I still like to have that one big mug in the morning to jump start my system. I'm trying to cut out the sugar, but I can never use the fake creamers. Ah, sweet siren coffee!

croutonboy said...

I was/am a crappy Catholic (he says, sipping his morning coffee). I would give up things for lent I hated anyway, like black licorice or wearing yellow. I think I once tried to give up beer to challenge myself, which lasted all of two days (I just forgot).

So kudos to you for keeping that monkey at bay! Now pardon me while I stop my hands from vibrating...

PunditMom said...

I'm beginning to wonder if we were twins separated at birth!

In my early 20s, even tho' I am not Catholic, I wanted to see if I could give something up for 40 whole days, and I chose -- coffee! (Which was a big mistake, since I was going to college cull-time and working two jobs). At the same time, I was working at a small radio station ... all this, and our shared love of good Italian wine ... I think I need to have a talk with my mother!

wayabetty said...

I was raised Buddhist and when we arrived to the U.S. in the early 80's, I'd notice these people with a gray dot on their foreheads and couldn't figure why they're doing that. I came pretty close in telling them that "there's a mark on their forehead" like duh! Somebody would walk out the house looking like that.

It's a good thing I didn't say anything. Good for you for giving up something for your Mom. I'm sure she was very proud!

Momish said...

I am impressed. I am with you, I honestly love the idea of sacrificing and taking the challenge to do without, apart from the religious intonations.

My friend during high school went to mass everyday before school and on the weekends during lent. Every day! To this day, I have an admiration for her that goes beyond WOW! Such devotion and sacrifice is commendable, no matter what form it takes or what motivation it comes from. Bravo for you!

Jess Riley said...

My mother used to give up chocolate, too. And one of my officemates is currently giving up chocolate. For me, the challenge would be giving up bitching and moaning about my current workload. I seem to be doing that alot lately. Maybe I need some chocolate.

Lawyer Mama said...

Ack! I just wrote a post about my own serious caffeine addiction. I contemplate giving it up, but never seriously. Good for you! You proved something to yourself.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Back in the day when I was Catholic, I never lasted more than a week in giving up anything. And coffee? Hell, I couldn't give that up when I was pregnant!

Kate said...

Ahh, you've taken me down memory lane and now all I can think of having to bear those "stations of the cross" we had to do every year during Lent. 12 years of Catholic school!

I don't give anything up for Lent. I don't even go to church much anymore.

But how cool that you were on-air talent for a radio show!

gorillabuns said...

i'm catholic and give up one less red bull and vodka an evening. it's a total sacrifice for me you know.

mamatulip said...

When I got pregnant with Julia I gave up coffee completely. I went from drinking about six cups a day, no joke, to nothing. It was pretty rough, but I kept it up for my entire pregnancy. When I got pregnant with Oliver, there was no way I was doing that again. I had one a day, sometimes two.

Giving up coffee is harder than I thought.

Great post, Mrs. C. I love it when you write about your mom.

Janet a.k.a. "Wonder Mom" said...

I'm not that strong.
Ever.

Pendullum said...

Just an amazing mother daughter story Mrs. Chicky, it truly is...

Damselfly said...

Oh, those caffeine-withdrawal headaches ... I'm right there with you....!

I gave up something for Lent maybe once, but like you I didn't really see the point. I don't think Jesus ever said, "Give up something for the period of time before the anniversary of my death and resurrection." I think the Lenten sacrifice thing is a man-made rule. Anyway....

Ruth Dynamite said...

I gave up wine for three days. Does that count?