Can we Fast a Little Faster?

The Lent Withdrawals: Cartoon image of a man looking right to a red devilish chocolate bar and left, a red devilish slice of pizza.

Being a Catholic, every year I’m hit with this thing called Lent. This is the Christian season of preparation before Easter. The Lenten season is a time when many Christians observe a period of fasting, repentance, moderation, self-denial, and spiritual discipline (Of course they would pick all the things I’m not good at). The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ—his life, suffering and sacrifice, death, burial, and resurrection. This specific period of time is good, because it gets my mind off of women and that Facebook thingy.

During the six weeks of self-examination and reflection, Christians who observe Lent typically make a commitment to fast, or to give something up—a habit (such as smoking, booze, watching TV, swearing), or a food or drink (such as sweets, chocolate or coffee). In other words, all the good stuff. Life is already hard enough as it is, filled with suffering; now, during lent, Christian’s feel as though they have to add to that suffering.

This year, I gave up all sweets, desserts, and sodas (which I tend to do every year). I’d like to admit that it’s because I’m a good Catholic Christian, but I know, down deep, it’s partly because my belly looks fatter this time of year, which is a result of all the eating of goodies over the holidays. So, in all honesty, Lent is partly an excuse to diet, but this time I have God as my personal trainer for forty days so I don’t cheat—which tends to happen all too often on the previous attempts. Christians should change the rules. I mean, for Christmas, I celebrated the birth of Christ by eating pies and cookies, shouldn’t I be able to celebrate the resurrection the same way? They’re both big events.

I know I should try and give up something more challenging, but sweets and sodas are right at that “I think I can do this” mark. If I picked something like “No pizza,” I’d put myself in the “You don’t have a shot in hell” category. Then, instead of feeling good about my triumphing fast over the Lent period, I would spend it feeling guilty with tomato sauce on my face. Plus, I hate squirming and backpedaling to the priest during confession. “Forgive me father for I have sinned, I vowed to give up pizza for Lent and, somehow, well, I ended up eating pizza last night. But, wait, I got to thinking… isn’t pizza good for you? It has tomatoes… and that’s a vegetable. God says we should treat our body like His holy temple… and vegetables are good for you so, in a way, didn’t I do something good?”

Forty days of giving something up really should not be that big of a deal—especially when it’s usually something you should be giving up anyway for your whole life, i.e., smoking, drinking, or eating processed foods that make you fat. You should rejoice in the fact that you’ve taken a little break, prolonging the cancer or diabetes diagnosis. But, it hasn’t been easy, every night, after dinner I hear this soft squeaky voice coming from the junk food cabinet. When I go to check it out, I see a Kit Kat chocolate bar lying on the shelf, smiling at me.

“Hey sweetie, how was your dinner?” it says.

“Good. What do you want?” I reply.

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“Oh nothing, really,” it continues with a devious smirk. “I was just thinking about those special moments we used to share after a nice meal. Hey, remember you used to take me and a couple of my friends out of this dark cabinet and we’d sit on the couch watching Little People of L.A. and you’d slowly unwrap me then gently nibble on my corners. Those were the days. I could just melt in your mouth.”

“You shut up!” I snap. “I made a commitment to stay away from you and, as God as my witness, I’m going to. I don’t want to see your chocolate-cookie face for the next forty days. You hear me?”

“Forty days is a long time, and I can already see your knees starting to buckle,” it quips.

I slam the cabinet door and go back to the couch where I begin to knaw on the sofa pillow. To hell with that Kit Kat bar. I don’t need that thing. What’s it ever done for me? Besides… besides… help me… satisfy me… ease my cravings. “Oh Kit Kat bar, hang on! I’m coming!”

It’s interesting, during Lent, they do not count Sundays as part of the forty days. How should I know why? I just go with the flow. So, there are some religious folk out there that have determined that this means you can, that you should indulge in what you’ve given up on the Sundays that aren’t counted. No dice. It’s just an unfounded rumor lacking any doctrine. Sorry, Charlie. The determination of a human being to always find a loophole never seizes to amaze me. And, to add fuel to the unbearable pain, you can’t eat meat on Fridays. That’s crazy. No sweets, no meat. There goes my favorite treat… Pistachio Ice Cream with Beef Jerky toppings.

So far, I have done very well with my no sweet fast. Sure, I shake, tremble, and sweat when I see a Coke machine. At times, I’ll curl up in a corner and mumble incoherently when a Keebler Elf commercial pops up on TV. But, all in all, I’m proud of myself. I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it is shining down on a giant vanilla shake that’s waiting for me.

The key is to be strong. Stick to your commitments. And, handcuff yourself to the bedpost. I am glad that I have made this sacrifice during Lent, because it has brought me closer to God. Every night I get down on my knees and pray, “God, can you please tell me where I hid that bag of Snicker bars? Please Lord. Well, how about the Reese’s Cups? Come on God, what did I ever do to you?!”

To me, the key is, during the moments of weakness, to take a deep breath, clear your mind, and then go to bed and sleep. Sometimes I sleep twenty-three hours a day. It really helps subdue the cravings, barring the Butterscotch pudding dreams and the Cheesecake nightmares. Another trick I like is when I’m at mass I pretend the communion wafer is a Peppermint Patty. In these tough times, you have to use whatever you can to get through the sugar withdrawals. But, I feel good. I think I’m going to make it. Hell, it’s been almost three days. Who am I fooling? I know what’s coming… “Forgive me father, for I have sinned…”

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by Jeff Charlebois

Cartoon Image of Jeff with a mic next to his book, "Life is a Funny Thing".

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