Looking the Gift Calf in the Mouth

A few days ago, I wrote about running with my Fitbit and Nike app—how I was evaluating what benefit I derived from these tools and if they interfered with my running experience or enhanced it. I got some interesting feedback from a couple of women, both of whom basically said that noticing something doesn’t mean that something is bad and needs to be eradicated. One woman said she used to time her runs and chart them out on graphs—back in the day, you know, before we had Fitbits and Nike apps.

I read an article recently that takes to task the folks who are advocating unplugging and promoting “days without technology.” The upshot of the article was, in a nutshell, “why?” Why would we want to ditch something that makes our lives better? I just spent a good hour looking for that article so I could put a link in, but I cannot find it. I did however discover during my Google search that 1 in 3 Christian adults are giving up technology for Lent. Which makes me wonder, what makes us feel virtuous when we give up something?

Yes, yes, I know that we all need restraint and moderation and that there are things that are undeniably bad for us, but what about seemingly positive things that make us go “no, no, no—I can’t possibly have that, because it makes life too easy, makes me feel too good. If I feel too good or get too much benefit or pleasure from something, I must sacrifice it. Cut it out.”

One friend who has given up martinis for Lent says she gave them up because nothing tastes quite so lovely on Easter morning as that first martini after a 40 day martini drought. So, delayed gratification and the resulting enhanced pleasure is perhaps one reason to give something up, at least temporarily.

I suspect that is not one of the primary reasons to give something up for Lent but it’s not a tradition my brand of christians followed so I’m not much of an authority. My people eschewed most everything that smacked of fun all the time, so giving up something for Lent seemed redundant—if we could give it up for Lent, why not just cut it out of our life for good?

I’ve been thinking lately about a phenomenon that occurred quite regularly when I was a member in good standing of Campus Christian Fellowship back in my not-so-halcyon college days. Whenever a Fellowship member felt like something they were doing was coming between them and their relationship with God, they gave it up.

One of my bible study leaders my freshman year—let’s call her Tina—was a gifted French horn player. A music major on a scholarship, she was a senior when she decided that playing the French horn had become more important to her than her commitment to Christ, so she gave it up and changed her major. Ostensibly, Tina’s decision was based on the second commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Her French horn had become, in her words, an idol, a graven image, the Western Washington University undergraduate equivalent of the golden calf. Like the golden calf, the French horn had to be (metaphorically) melted down, or at least put away.

I remember being horrified by her decision as she shared her logic with us at a bible study meeting—I asked Tina if perhaps she was missing the point . . . that god had given her this amazing talent and wasn’t she just squandering his gift to her by quitting?

She replied by reminding me that god had given Abraham his son Isaac, too, and then asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Evidently god was insecure enough that he required a human sacrifice (well, yeah, eventually he sacrificed his own son, so Isaac was merely a precursor). Tina wanted to be as devoted as Abraham. Privately I suspected Abraham was a crazy old man who heard voices that were not god’s, but I was only the bible study attendee, not the leader, so what did I know? Turned out god was merely testing old Abraham and let him keep Isaac after all, but still. What sort of god requires that kind of sacrifice?

I kept seeing this notion crop up while I was in CCF—students ended relationships with one another because they became “too special.” Students gave up their apartments, their roommates, even their cars if they felt like they were becoming too attached. It all seemed a little crazy to me—why give up a good thing, I wondered. I failed to see the harm in appreciating a great apartment or a favorite car, or, especially, a deep friendship.

I imagined the great white sky-god pulling his long white hair out over all of this foolishness—all of this sacrifice. After all, hadn’t these students prayed to succeed? (Trust me, they had—everything became a prayer in CCF). Prayed to find the right apartments, prayed to find friends? And hadn’t god granted these things? Only to watch these ingrates squander his blessings?

I’m decades removed now from CCF and no longer even try to understand the logic that sect adhered to, and I do try not to have judgments about whatever it is that people want to give up for Lent because I think it is a time that can be like the new year when people can adopt new habits and try new ways of being. Lenten sacrifices may serve as a catalyst for getting healthy or for taking on positive new challenges. But even outside of religion, in the realm of regular folk, I believe we have a tendency to adhere to some spilled over puritanical beliefs that can strip us of small joys (like tracking our fitness) and larger gifts (like music and friendship and art).

We might all benefit from looking a little deeper at what we are giving up and why.

4 thoughts on “Looking the Gift Calf in the Mouth

  1. French Horn, played well, is god!

    And I am one who gave up technology for Lent…but not all of Lent, just one 24 hr period a week during Lent. For me it’s more about the discipline than the actual ‘sacrifice” itself. And I need to get some yardwork done.

    • Exactly! If I were a believer, I would say that the playing would be glorifying to the creator rather than taking away from Him/Her. And yes, I can see that discipline and self control are skills to hone–delayed gratification and all that. I think many people give things up out of fear–fear of being punished for having too much, being too good, fear of failure, of not measuring up . . . a mentality like “if I give it up, then it can’t be taken away.” Make sense? Thanks for reading! xo

  2. Pam, I think I love you (in a secular, writerly fashion that I will not give up for Lent). I can so relate to the message you’ve articulated here. I used to be a a journalist covering a lot of health issues and I was always in a perpetual state of anxiety that I should ‘giving UP more’. I guess in the end ‘giving more’ would be the higher goal. Also loved your segue from Isaac to Jesus! and BTW I raise a glass to your friend who has given up martinis for Lent — but isn’t Easter MORNING a little early in the day? 🙂 Big believer in positive health habits and a certain amount of delayed gratification — to really indulge in the sensuous a little discipline is the spice!

    • Jill! So nice to see you outside of the Haiku Room! Giving more would be my preference for Lent, rather than giving UP. Seems like a better way to serve the greater good. And yes, delayed gratification makes the wait and the reward all the sweeter, I so agree. Thanks for reading xo Pam

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