We can expect much coverage this week of the Mardi Gras carnival in New Orleans. This city, devastated by Hurricane Katrina last August, has long been a target of media attention and Mardi Gras on February 28th will be a chance for many to reflect--as well as party.
Mardi Gras or Carnival has been celebrated since the Dark Ages. It's English name is Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent, the day people emptied the larders and consumed the last of the sweets before an extended period of fasting.
As much as I have always loved the city of New Orleans, I have never been there for Mardi Gras, and I doubt I ever will. My idea of reveling is, I'm sure, quite different from the spirit of Mardi Gras. It tends to be alcohol-free, for one.
One element that I have practiced for the last seven years has been Lent. Mine has been a learned practice, since I didn't grow up in a church that practiced 40 days of fasting prior to Easter. Back in 1998, as I was preparing to go to the mission field, I felt that Easter deserved to be a religious focal point--it was far more deserving than Christmas for that title. I also felt a great need to practice Lent. I didn't eat meat (which is what most Catholics fast from), so I determined to find something else to forego--a spiritual and physical challenge that could lead to development. I determined to focus on one personal "vice" or another as well as spiritual renewal.
What Worked. The first year, when I was still living in Arizona, I gave up TV during Lent (Sabbath is the day I take off from fasting). When the experience was over, I felt better. I had had more time for God, my Bride, and my baby daughter. Later I focused on my addiction to computer games. It was a time when my love for "Age of Empires" was really frustrating Jenny. I would start playing and be unable to stop unti 2 a.m. sometimes. Giving up the games for 40 days, gave me perspective, new habits, less addiction. Since my 2nd 40-day "fast" from computer games, I haven't been tempted by them since.
What Hasn't. There have been Lenten blunders, too. I have tried to fast by enforcing a certain behavior: worship and exercise have been two. I tried daily exercise the past two years, and each time it failed. I think it was a little too me-focused. Sorry, but I still can't bring myself to imagine that I'm glorifying God by exercising.
This Year. I'm planning to focus on diet. My appetite has gotten away from me since mid-January. I need to bring it under control and dedicate all of myself to God. I'll abstain from sugar or sugar substitutes over the month (except Sabbaths). Furthermore, I'll devote the six Fridays to fasting and prayer for choices Jenny and I are making about where and how we worship.
Why am I revealing this on a blog? I need to be help accountable, for one. I do this for myself by talking about my beliefs. Just seeing this written down gives me hope that Lent, this year, will begin a lifelong change--and continue a lifelong adoration of Jesus Christ.