Under the Influence

No weeknight drinking, no weekend guilt

As a lifelong Catholic, religious holidays always kind of bummed me out. It usually meant we would actually have to study during Wednesday night Catechism, instead of playing Apostle Bingo. And the teachings were often centered around themes such as sacrifice, penance, guilt and suffering. None more so than the season of Lent.

Every year as a child, I would give up chewing gum for Lent. If I slipped up I would be racked with guilt and worry about my place in Hell. It didn’t help that the celebration that was supposed to wrap up the season of sacrifice included a crucifixion. I always found the disconnect between hunting for Easter eggs and praying to the sad, bloody Jesus to be upsetting.

As an adult, I mostly observe Lent as a sort of cleanse. In the world of abundance that we are lucky enough to live in, I think it’s good practice to reel in the excess from time to time.

I rarely connect it directly with the observed Catholic holidays, but this year my sister dragged us all back to church on Ash Wednesday. The priest’s message was short and sweet — Lent is a time to examine your relationships with God, yourself and others. Find what hinders those relationships and practice sacrifice in order to repair them, he said.

Nowadays I give up the adult version of gum: Booze. Even though I don’t drink to excess and booze certainly hasn’t ruined any of my relationships, it’s numbing. A glass of wine allows me to detach from a crappy day, or forget that something hurts. For the past few years, while working through personal issues, I’ve allowed myself to imbibe without limit.

Now it’s time for a little break.

However, I don’t intend to give it up for good. Drinking is also a joyous thing — it makes celebrations vibrant, it improves a delicious meal and it’s just plain fun. So this Lenten season I’m practicing Lent lightly: No drinking on weeknights, no guilt on weekends.

In the end, I don’t know what percentage of my participation in Lent is due to the threat of Hell or the guilt of Jesus’ sacrifice. But I appreciate the priest removed those aspects and instead instructed us to focus on our relationships. No matter what, we can all use a break from our vices and the clear-headed space to reflect on their place in our lives.

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