Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lenten Voices: Self-indulgence By Lenten Observance

by Laura Onstot

For my first Lenten observance, at the tender age of 19, I gave up chocolate. This resulted in a frantic midnight phone call to Kazaa, the now defunct uber-delivery service, for a liter of Breyer’s Dulce de Leche. Scarfing it down in my dorm in the early morning hours, it occurred to me, this probably isn’t what God had in mind.

I’ve gone through several iterations of Lent since then—a few times I gave up meat for the duration, ending with a steak and lobster tail dinner. There’s really nothing quite like finishing a month and a half of self-denial in the name of faith with a meal centered on gluttony—like Mardi Gras in reverse.

Once I thought about giving up making fun of the batty receptionist at a job, but given the inevitability of failure (she thought the fax machine teleported paper, seriously) that seemed a task too steep.

So last year I decided to do something different. I wanted to really examine my life, find something that didn’t fit with a grace-filled existence, and do my darndest to let it go and let God, or whatever. Last year, I gave up anxiety.

My anxiousness isn’t paralyzing the way it is for others. Mine has always been more a kind of constant companion that often results in a few hours lost sleep and heart-pounding moments of panic every time I get an e-mail from my boss, certain that this time, it’s to say I’ve been fired.

When you get right down to it, I think my anxiety is rather selfish. I’ve been incredibly blessed—my vocation and my job are one and the same, I have intelligent, compassionate friends who are far more adept in the kitchen than I and happy to share those talents. My roommates are inspiring, my family is supportive, and my income enough to keep up a travel habit. I’m terrified of losing all that and I don’t have a faith strong enough to sustain me if I did. Enter anxiety.

So for Lent I wanted to tell God that even though I know I’ll always be anxious, that faith in God’s love will never truly be enough, I do desire to live more fully as a person of grace. Of course, how one actually gives up anxiety is another trick entirely. I tried jogging and maintaining a better diet. And in the spirit of Lent, really for the first time, I made a serious commitment to praying.

That last part was especially difficult. I’ve never been one to do it as a life style. I repeat prayers in church, and I mean them. I thank God every Friday after Thanksgiving when family and friends gather at my home for giving me so much. But daily, thoughtful, prayer just hasn’t been something I’ve felt comfortable doing. Unsure how to go about it and not being one to just start talk about my feelings with anyone, let alone mysterious entities I can’t see and don’t really understand, I started at the beginning.

“Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

I still have anxiety, and I’m still a very awkward communicant with God. But I kept using the prayer, long after last year’s Easter vigil. I still do. And you know, it kind of works.

Laura attended her first St. Paul's mass on Ash Wednesday 2004 and now sings in the Parish Choir. She is a staff writer for the Seattle Weekly (online at, a novice knitter, a lover of mountains, and is always up for communing over an aged scotch.

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