Remember the advertising slogan "Betcha Can't Eat Just One"? It was in reference to potato chips. It was saying that the snack was so good, you would not be able to stop. As I enjoy these last hours of Shrove Tuesday (or Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras) I wonder: Will I have the self-discipline to keep my Lenten promise? There is that voice that vexes me, like the slogan, telling me to bet against myself.
Traditionally, Shrove Tuesday is the night when each of us indulge in our guilty pleasure before the 40 day season of Lent begins. The logic being, perhaps, that we get it out of our system? Or more practically, we rid our house of the sweets (or other temptations) so that we don't have to face them when we open the pantry. Clear out the cookie jars, the wine racks, the ice cream in the freezer. No wonder this holiday has wide appeal. At Olivet Church tonight, people gather for a Pancake Supper which falls right in line with this Christian tradition of purging before Lent.
However, I am not in Lusby pigging out on pancakes.
I am visiting my mom who is battling a disease which leaves her with no appetite. She sat tonight picking at her pasta. It's fine, she tells me, I just have no appetite. I ask her if there is anything she craves. No, everyone asks that, she tells me. What about chocolate? What about a potato chip? Betcha can't eat just one of those! But alas, she has no appetite for any of these things that most of us would give up for Lent.
In this moment, I realize the irony. Like many of us, my mom has sought to control her desire for those "sinful sweets" her whole life. My earliest memory of her is when she would run from our house, cutting through the backyard, to reach the Goshen Dairy ice cream shop before it closed. I have her same sweet tooth. Wouldn't a loss of appetite be a welcomed change? It certainly would be an easy way to "get through" Lent.
But today, as I watched her, I began to see that our appetite is a gift. Sure it can lead to temptation. It could result in poor choices. But our appetite is what gives us life. It provides an entry point for God to meet us in our human desire. We have the potential to have appetites for all sorts of things, God's grace included.
My mom's appetite for food has been dulled. She won't be joining in any pancake suppers tonight. But her appetite for God's grace is just as huge. She hungers His peace. She takes second and third helpings of the fellowship of Christian believers. She would, figuratively speaking, sneak out the back door tonight and run toward His sweet spirit!
Lent doesn't have to be about suppressing our desire - in fact, trouble arises when we try to deny our desires. Instead, Lent can be a time of deepening our desire – our desire simply needs a holy focus. Lent can be a time of letting ourselves go in our Holy desires. How great to indulge in these! There is no shame in pigging out on God’s love, peace, hope, joy.
The depths of our spirituality does not depend upon changing the things we do, but in doing for God what we ordinarily do for ourselves. --Brother Lawrence