For the last thirty-three days (plus Sundays!), I have been walking around in a fog. Because this isn’t that unusual a state for me, it’s possible most people haven’t noticed, but for this time period, at least, there actually is a reason. I have temporarily given up coffee.
My last, glorious, life-infusing cup was Tuesday, February 12th, at approximately 10 a.m. Assuming that sniffing the bag of coffee grounds in the cupboard – or the aroma wafting from the stranger’s cup on the table beside mine in the restaurant – doesn’t count, I haven’t cheated and had so much as a sip in all that time. And although it has just about killed me (and those poor souls who have to live with me) I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Lent isn’t a tradition I grew up with. Several years ago, though, my husband and I decided to implement the practice with our family. The result has been a powerful time of preparation for the highlight of the Christian calendar: Easter weekend. My kids take this very seriously. They deliberate – sometimes for weeks – about what they believe would be the best thing for them to give up, what one thing they will miss, what favourite food or drink or activity that will actually sting a little (or a lot) if it is removed from their lives. And once they have decided and Lent has begun, nothing can persuade them to partake of that thing. I have learned a lot about commitment from watching them.
The key is to think about why you are making the sacrifice. This is not a meritorious activity; no brownie points will be earned with God or placed on the scales to offset any accrued guilt. Neither is it in any way comparable to the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ.
It is, however, a grounding, a focal point. We live in a culture that does not value self-sacrifice or self-denial. If we want something, we just go to the refrigerator or to the store and get it. Giving up something that brings us pleasure (or, in the case of coffee, helps me get through the day) has a way of drawing us back to that which we wish to focus on. When I stumble into the kitchen in the morning and remember that I cannot pour myself that all-important first cup, I stop and think about why I am not having that cup, and say a prayer of gratitude for what Jesus was willing to give up for me.
I can’t grasp the magnitude of his sacrifice, but I can let the realization that he willingly suffered so that I could have hope and a future wash over me. I can fall to my knees in humility as the truth of that fills me fresh every morning. If a little self-denial can remove me from a world of noise and distraction and busyness and bring me to that place, even for a few minutes at a time, I will gladly participate in it.
This is Holy Week. The knowledge of that did not just strike me in the last few days, or when the kids came into the service this morning waving palm branches and singing. I try to keep Christ’s sacrifice for me uppermost in my thoughts all year through, but have been particularly reminded and brought back to the cross daily for the past 33 days. And if such a miniscule sacrifice can bring to mind and heart a remembrance of the greatest sacrifice of all, it is truly a price worth paying.
Press on, my friends. Press on,