1) Decided to abstain from caffeine for Lent. No chocolate. No coffee, which wasn’t a sacrifice since I don’t drink it. No Diet Coke, which was a sacrifice because I’m addicted and haven’t gone for more than a few days without it since I started drinking it in junior high school. My doctor always pushes me to cut back on caffeine, as too much can interfere with my medications, so he should be very, very proud of my decision.
2) Announced this to my husband, children, mother and all my 200-plus nearest and dearest friends via Facebook.
3) Realized on the first day that this is a dreadful, catastrophic mistake. On a scale of 1-10, this was a 20. The typical withdrawal symptoms—shakiness, etc.—weren’t the biggest problem. The fatigue was. I started taking naps mid-morning and couldn’t get any work done. I was too tired to stand up at times.
4) Realized that I was depriving yourself of chocolate and I had made a cake with chocolate frosting for my father’s birthday. I allowed myself to eat a slice and didn’t feel guilty. But then my daughter mentioned the Kentucky Derby pie in the refrigerator. “Don’t you want a piece after lunch?”
“No! I can’t have any!”
“But, Mommy, you like chocolate. Why can’t you have any?”
5) Burst into tears, slammed a door (and broke the door knob), and yelled at my husband as if he was to blame for both my Lenten resolution and temper tantrum. He asked why I decided to go off caffeine. “I don’t know,” I said, still crying. I was so tired.
6) Went to church. Barely stayed awake. Skipped Sunday school to sit with my husband in the church foyer, close to tears again because I was so depressed and distraught.
7) Realized that I didn’t give up caffeine from any real desire to identify with Christ’s sufferings. I did it out of a spirit of deprivation, the same need to deny myself things that are legitimate pleasures because I felt that I didn’t deserve to have any pleasure at all. I was punishing myself.
As my husband wisely pointed out, that’s the same compulsion that lead to my eating disorder in college. In my mind, I was a horrible person, therefore I didn’t deserve to be happy, therefore I wasn’t going to eat. When hunger overcame me, I ate and purged.
There’s a time to fast and a time to feast. I’m fabulous at metaphorical fasting; I can deprive myself of everything pleasurable until I’m reduced to nothing. I’m horrible at feasting; I have a difficult time enjoying anything.
8) Realized that the fatigue was not going away, even after a week. I was being a neglectful, cranky, depressed wife and mother. This wasn’t healthy, God-honoring, or done from the right motivation.
9) Gave up deprivation and enjoyed a Diet Coke and a chocolate protein shake.
I think God prefers compassion, joy and love than self-denial-for-the-sake-of-self-denial. What do you think?