‘Giving up’ is not always sweet surrender

Bishop’s Mantle column by Jim Bishop

No one promised me a rose garden, but man, plowing this early spring ground is hard work.

Some weeks ago, I made the “mistake” of declaring, via this column, my intention to give up chocolate – one of my “favorite things” – and desserts in general for Lent. This commitment, which officially began Ash Wednesday, Feb. 21, grew out of a desire to practice more self-discipline and experience some personal renewal as part of my journey towards Easter, but also tied into a New Year’s resolution to lose 10 pounds by Easter time.

Having made this brash public declaration, numerous persons have asked, “How’s it going?”, and I appreciate that. I quickly realized, however, that the key to success is to follow a prescribed Italian diet – I go pasta candy aisle, pasta baked goods, pasta ice-cream shop, pasta dessert bar at the restaurant. Mama Mia!

There really was a period, early on, in which I went through internal withdrawal symptoms. I felt intense craving for something sweet at every meal. I settled for my wife Anna’s knowing smile and, on occasion, a banana or an apple. Even these healthy fruit began to taste like sugar going down. I’m pleased to report some headway. I’ve passed up many tempting offers of sumptuous saccharine fare and recently walked right past the store display of Reese’s peanut-butter cups and Cadbury creme Easter eggs (I was in shell-shock) en route to the cash register, even as they whispered, “Take me, I’m yours.”

Whether it’s ingesting fewer calorie-laden carbohydrates or giving up something else, the act itself seldom happens overnight or is an easy task. Take the aspiration to give up a bad habit, for example. For me, it could be allowing stacks of papers, magazines and assorted useless items to pile up on the kitchen counter, add another one here or yelling at other drivers in heavy traffic (me, I never pull stupid stunts on the open road). What about giving up a prized possession, like my Miata or extensive music library, assuming someone would want them?

I think I could survive without certain items: early-morning coffee, the daily newspaper, a favorite radio station or cable channel, e-mail and Internet access, for example. And that’s without entering the touchy territory of loved ones, physical and mental health or occupation.

Change becomes easier, I believe, if I seek to replace a pitiable pattern with a good habit, like regular exercise, getting adequate sleep and affirming others frequently.

Ask yourself: what tangible, concrete things do I value most and how would I feel were they suddenly taken away? How might I function then? Would I be forced to reexamine what really is important in life, what drives my being?

Scripture declares, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). Perhaps we cling to what we know – our eating patterns, our daily schedule, our top priorities – because we may not like what we discover about ourselves if we’d let go?

I must keep asking – and I commend this to others as well – what am I prepared to give up for the sake of becoming a more whole person? And what am I taking on in its place to achieve this goal?

My fervent hope is that I won’t return to my abuse of chocolate and sweets in general after this initial period of testing. Meantime, think I’ll eat an apple, take a long walk and come, smell the Easter lily.

 

Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University.

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