Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday and the following day is Ash Wednesday. That can only mean that Lent begins this week. Honestly, I love this time of the year. Spring is full of new hope, fragrant blossoming trees, and the Easter holiday punctuates the whole season (I’m not referring to chocolate bunnies and plastic eggs in the yard). While I am a man of faith, I am not a Catholic; however, I do participate in Lent. I think there is an over-arching beauty to the practice of self-denial and intentional refraint of Lent. Wikipedia defines it as “the purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial.” The idea is that if you give up something of importance to your life, to your comfort level, to your quality of living, or to your daily routine you will be inclined to remember the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. Lent is marked by a 40 day period, culminating in Good Friday. The starting point is, of course, a belief that Christ died a death of crucifixion and rose from the dead. If you’re not there yet, no need to consider practicing the Art of Refrain.

Last year I abstained from coffee for 40 days. It was quite a challenge, but I did complete it. This year I am giving up sweets (my number one vice) of all kinds including chocolate, cookies, and donuts. In the spirit of true rebellion, I stopped by the bakery today for a paczki (pronounced as poonch-kee) which is a delightful Polish pastry. Years ago, I had my professional office above the local bakery. Not an ideal place to work for someone with an ever-expanding waistline, but whatever! Each year, at this same time, paczkis fill the display case. They are pastries made from all of the richest parts of life: lard, oil, sugar, and buttercream (or other suitable injectable filling) which were traditionally forbidden during Lent. Think of the pastry as a “let’s-bake-it-all-to-get-rid-of-it” solution. As a result, these donut-like desserts are amazingly rich and decadent. It goes without saying that I had to begin my sweets fast with one last indulgence.

Most Americans want for nothing. We have an abundance of everything, access to nearly anything that we desire or can afford, and I’m not convinced that is a good thing. The concept of saying no to ourselves is foreign and awkward to most people. By practicing Lent, you have an opportunity to symbolically and literally say no to yourself, in recognition to the sacrifice that has already been made for you. Pick the vice that holds your heart most captive and simply say no. Say no for 40 days and, in the process, use that time to reflect on your life from a spiritual perspective. I promise it will not be a wasted effort, but an artful refrain.