Lenten season helps you learn how to say 'no' to yourself

alisondgriwold@gmail.comMarch 21, 2014 

Mornings are not my favorite, and they've been especially rough since Ash Wednesday. With the first day of Lent, I decided I'd give up my morning coffee and drink tea instead. All you hippies who swear green tea is as caffeinated as coffee need to stop. Each morning, my only reason to stop hitting "snooze" and stumble into the kitchen was knowing that my coffeemaker is aglow and percolating, ready to provide caffeinated relief to the injury that is being awake at 6:30 a.m.

Since the beginning of Lent, the only thing that has greeted me is an empty carafe. I then fill a teapot with my tears and make a cup of English Breakfast Tea like I'm the help on "Downton Abbey" instead of a millennial born with a travel mug in one hand and a Starbucks rewards card in the other.

Your question, I'm sure, is "why?" "Why in the world are you subjecting yourself to this medieval torture?"

The answer, my friends, is for the sacrifice.

You've probably noticed -- from the proliferation of fish sandwiches being offered at every fast food outlet -- that it's the season of Lent. Lent is the 40 days before Easter when we attempt to imitate Christ, who spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying and resisting the devil's temptation.

Many years ago I remember flipping through the Bible and being disturbed by the words of Hebrews: "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood" (Hebrews 12:4). Jolting me out of the warm fuzzies we sometimes get from reading Scripture (where is the Lord is our shepherd and we're sheep and it's all good?), I paused and said aloud, "Who said anything about shedding blood?"

Yet I have come to realize that sometimes avoiding sin IS so hard that it feels like one is on the verge of shedding blood. The juicy gossip that begs to be shared. The insult that I have a biting response for that I choose not to say. The little white lie that would spare me having to take responsibility for my mistakes.

These are the times when I'm convinced it would be easier to cut off my hand (or mouth, since that seems to be what gets me into trouble) for the sake of avoiding sin.

Instead of this gruesome practice, however, we have Lent. For 40 days, I consider something that I feel very attached to and voluntarily cut it out, giving it up as a sacrifice. In this way, I'm able to practice one of the most important weapons in my struggle against sin -- saying "no" to me.

Every night when I decide not to set my coffeemaker to brew at 6:27 a.m. the next day, I'm saying "no" to me. Every morning when I wake up to an empty pot and resolve to get through the day on the strength of tea and sheer grit, I'm saying "no" to me. And when I drive past Starbucks on the way to work and I keep going, I'm saying "no" to me.

This way, when the big stuff comes up, I'm that much stronger. I've practiced walking away from what I want. I've told my will that it's not the boss of me. I've mastered saying "no" to myself.

No athlete would say they owe their success to years of practicing whenever they felt like it, but rather from hours of sweat, tears and maybe even blood. One of the hardest competitors we face in life is our own will. Choosing a Lenten sacrifice -- saying "no" to ourselves -- brings us that much closer to mastering it.

Follow columnist Alison Griswold at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.


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