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Spirituality: Fat Tuesday, Lean Future

February 21, 2012


Word on Fire resident theological neophyte, Kerry Trotter, never really got the point of Lent. Then life happened. Read about her very expensive spiritual lesson today, on the Word on Fire blog.

“Eight and … nine and … ten!”

I breathlessly collapsed on my bedroom floor, my pipe cleaner arms vibrating with fatigue. Ten measly pushups and I was positively gassed. It sounds sad as I write this now, but really, 10 pushups (not the cheating kind where you rest on your knees) is a milestone for me.

It’s been a pretty inert couple of years.

Yesterday was the finale of my 30-Day Shred, a gimmicky workout designed and led by Jillian Michaels, the sadistic personal trainer of TV’s “The Biggest Loser” fame. It is more or less what it sounds like: a DVD exercise regimen one must do for a mere 20 minutes a day in order to achieve Adonis-like physical perfection, or “shreddedness,” in a month’s time. There’s also a diet component, but I didn’t even give that a passing glance.

I may have taken a day or two off, perhaps sat a couple of ridiculous abdominal exercises out, maybe flipped Jillian the bird once or twice, but I finished. And you know what? It sort of worked.

“Physical perfection” ought to be addressed in the most exaggerated of air quotes, and “shredded” is still more apt to describe my preferred medium of cheese, but I am not sore after a day of lifting my 15-month-old. My hips don’t pop out of joint when I climb two stairs at a time. I no longer jiggle when I sneeze.


This is the point at which you say, “Where is she going with this?” and to that I wordily say, “sacrifice.”

Tomorrow we kick off Lent. To Catholics, it is a most auspicious occasion—holy, somber, joyous. For me, traditionally, it meant the time where I begrudgingly gave up something I loved only to bail on my promise about 20 days in. One year my Lenten sacrifice was black licorice. One year it was lip balm. One year it was Facebook. One year it was even broccoli, figuring I finally had a full 40 days in the bag.

My mom squashed that idea.

As a kid, Lent was a drag. The only upshots to that seemingly endless stretch of self-deprivation were the saccharine binge-fests of Fat Tuesday and Easter Sunday.  Even those didn’t make the fast worthwhile. Somewhere between childhood and now, I hung up my Lenten shoes, thinking, “Nuts to this. Pass the Easter Egg Whoppers.”

But also, in that same expanse of “somewhere,” I racked up credit card debt. I borrowed an absurd amount of money from student lenders. I took an extended breather from exercise. Some of it was happenstance, most of it was the product of poor decisions.

Every day was Fat Tuesday. And it wasn’t particularly fun.

Personal “Lent” came at me like a haymaker, grinding just about everything I knew and bought to a halt. Debts needed to be paid, savings had to be squirreled away, afternoons wandering through a mall became an embarrassing display of denial. That self-deprivation of my youth that was so unpalatable was now a necessity. But unlike those 40 days of yore, this Lent was settling in for a while—for the foreseeable future and beyond.

Now, I’m no religious scholar. Not even close. But in my fast, while facing my future that looks almost terrifyingly lean, I have found a note of clarity. Sacrifice has been liberating. Denying myself things that once brought me joy now brings me joy. Having less often means needing less, and needing less frees up a lot of time and space. It’s almost luxurious, this austerity. Atoning for my sins of excess has been strangely decadent. Cutting through the clutter is bringing me, however slowly, closer to God. It’s sort of like that feeling you have the day after you begin exercising again—a dull, uncomfortable, full-body ache that is indescribably satisfying.

It’s telling you something is working. It’s telling you brighter days are ahead.

I “get” Lent now.

As for what to give up this year, I have a few ideas in the hopper but have yet to settle on anything. I know it’ll be hard, but boy, will it feel good in the end.

Just call it the 40-Day Shred.