The Catholic Church no longer encourages Catholics to "give up" something for Lent. Instead of depriving oneself, the Church believes your soul is better served by doing good works.
Nevertheless I'm old school, and for the past few Lents, I've given up chocolate. But I found I was eating jelly beans by the pound and spoons full of yellow cake mix straight out of the box. So this Lent, I set a higher bar: I gave up sugar. Not sugar hidden in foods like ketchup and peanut butter and yogurt. I'm talking about sugar in plain sight, found in pies and cookies and ice cream.
I discovered two things: First, I eat a lot of sugar. And second, giving up sugar was far harder than I imagined.
This surprised me because I pride myself on maintaining a healthy weight, and fancy myself a disciplined person.
Yet by Day Two of Lent, I was checking the calendar to see how much longer I had to go and bargaining with myself that sneaking my kids' Frosted Mini Wheats after dinner didn't really count.
It was sugar's small, welcome pick-ups that I missed. The square of dark chocolate I popped during my 3 PM slump, the half-eaten granola bars I salvaged while cleaning my kids' lunch boxes, or the Rice Krispie treat I nibbled during the evening hours to get through the ordeal of homework.
These tiny hits got me through the day, and once I stopped ingesting them, I realized I was in fact addicted. I couldn't live without sugar. Or, more accurately, no one would want to be around me if I did. "Mom, please, take a bite of this brownie," my kids begged, or from my husband, "Somebody in the office baked cupcakes. I brought leftovers."
Being a Catholic accustomed to confession I'll tell you: This Lenten season, I have failed. Miserably. I'm human, after all, and by definition, flawed. Next year, I plan to spend my 40 days doing something easier. Like building houses for the homeless or working in a food pantry, stacking 50 pound sacks of potatoes.
With a Perspective, I'm Jessica O'Dwyer.
Jessica O'Dwyer is the adoptive mother of two children born in Guatemala and author of a memoir of those adoptions.