Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and I attended noon Mass at the Army chapel--on the post where my oldest son is currently stationed--with my daughter-in-law. The priest solemnly traced the Sign of the Cross in ashes on our foreheads. These black crosses clearly remind all who see them that the wearers are well aware of their sinful human nature, their need for repentance, and most of all, their need for Christ's saving grace. Ash Wednesday begins the 40 days of Lent, wherein faithful Catholics try to prepare their souls to better celebrate the death and Resurrection of Jesus through fasting (on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday), abstinence from meat (on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays), prayer, and sacrifices.
This year, I've chosen to give up Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, which sounds like a pretty paltry sacrifice to make, but is actually very difficult for me. Diet soda is my favorite beverage, other than that greatest of all liquid refreshments, coffee (which I've never seriously considered giving up, because I am weak and I know I would most likely not make it until Easter without falling off the wagon). I count on that calorie-free treat to give me a little cold, bubbly lift when I need it, and to keep me from snacking on fattening goodies between meals. I worry that without it, I'm going to pack on some extra pounds. But if I can't give up diet soda for a mere 40 days, joyfully and without complaint, to show my love for my Savior (who gave His life for me!), then how pathetic am I?
Pretty pathetic, actually: when I passed by the soda cooler near the register as I checked out at Wal-Mart this afternoon, I looked at it longingly and even thought for a second that maybe it wasn't too late to decide to give up something else instead. It is day 2 of Lent. Obviously, I have a very long way to go if I hope to one day find myself in the company of the saints.
We have been taught that God is merciful and loving; that He is patient; that He wants all of us to be joined with Him in Heaven in the next life. As I go through another Lenten season "suffering" because I have a ridiculous, constant craving for a diet soda fix and I can't satisfy it, I'll be hoping, as I do each year, that this will be the year I'll see some progress in my struggle to become a better person, a person worthy of God's love. I may not make that much headway, but here's the beautiful thing: I know that in spite of the fact that I'm not worthy, He loves me anyway.