Every now and then my wife reminds me that, despite having a testimony of the truthfulness of the LDS Church and being a member for some 24 years, she hasn’t left all of her Catholicism behind. The issue usually comes up around this time of year when she will interrupt a perfectly good re-run of Adam-12 to ask me, “What are we giving up for Lent this year?”
This conversation never goes well for me. I usually respond with, “How about nothing? I’m not Catholic. We already give up coffee, tea, booze, tobacco, two meals a month, and catchy music at church. I think we suffer enough.”
That usually elicits “The Look,” a simple change of expression that has been emasculating me since 1987. I have a lot of phobias, but there is nothing I fear more than The Look.
OK, maybe albinos.
Each year I try to deflect her with humor. “I’ll give up crystal meth.”
Crickets. Guess I’ll skip the one about unsuccessfully giving up celibacy during high school.
Usually, she already has a pretty good idea of how she is going to ruin an otherwise perfectly good month. Television is a frequent victim of the Lent Offensive, but that ban isn’t nearly as traumatic since we only watch Netflix these days. Chocolate was a bitter loss one year. I think fast food bit the dust once. We’ve even done the traditional red meat thing. Well, actually Mom got no buy-in whatsoever on THAT nonsense, so the rest of us camped out at McDonald’s while she ate fish sticks. Religious devotion is one thing, but we don’t need to get all crazy. That bacon isn’t going to eat itself.
My only solace now is that as I get older, there is less that I can give up for a month. Between high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, there is nothing I am eating these days that I would miss. I fall asleep watching TV. I might offer to give up watching sports this year, hoping that she won’t notice that her eternal companion and father of five girls already surrendered on that front right around the turn of the century. Maybe we could give up Project Runway, dear. Do we really need that many men crying over messy seams in our living room?
I’ve discussed this dilemma with several of my LDS friends and was surprised at how little pity they offered. Apparently, my beloved isn’t the only Mormon who toys with observing Lent. All kinds of folks are giving up some favorite vice this time of year. It’s like everyone I know is taking a mulligan on their failed New Year’s resolutions.
I suppose Mormons are used to this sort of thing. The first Sunday of every month we fast for 24 hours and donate the value of what we would have eaten to the needy. (“Twenty-four hours” isn’t exactly a precise temporal description. I have it on good authority that more than one member of the Church follows the same calculation that my family did: The time between when you go to bed on Saturday–wiping the milkshake off of your mouth–and when church services end the next day equals “twenty-four hours.” If you have 9 a.m. church, you can get that sucker down to single digits). If we serve missions, we give up TV for 18 months or two years (not counting walking really slowly through the electronics department at Sears). We abstain from sexual activity until we are married (and then, if the number of our kids is any indicator, do our best to make up for lost time). So the idea of giving something up for a month isn’t out of the realm of reason.
Maybe the Lord actually looks kindly on these gestures of sacrifice. I need all the blessings I can get, and if delaying the gratification of 1970s police dramas will help the cause, I’m game. Besides, I knew she was Catholic when I dated her. Kind of late to start griping about it now. At least she didn’t make me learn Latin.