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Give it up

Jude SImpson

SimpsonSome of the more amusing responses I've heard to the question, 'What are you giving up for Lent?' have included 'abstemiousness,' 'saveloys' and 'the acquaintance of people who ask self-righteously what I'll be giving up for Lent.'  

Having spent my teenage years in the sort of church that prepares you for post-evangelicalism, I once regarded the personal moderations people indulge in during Lent as examples of suspicious religiosity - along with knowing how many Sundays there are between now and something else.

And I've never had much truck with people who say they've given up chocolate and then spend 40 days discussing whether or not a mug of cocoa counts.  

These days, I try and make sure I'm pregnant whenever fasting's on the menu.  'Obviously I'd love to, but...' [indicates swollen belly with helpless shrug].  

Yet there is something potentially extraordinary about self-restraint that is applied thoroughly and thoughtfully. In fact, there's something so counter-cultural about self-imposed moderation that it is surely in itself a spiritual victory - doubtless leading to angelic feasting somewhere in heaven.  

It's partly about identifying with Jesus, who as we know spent many of his wilderness days bemoaning the fact that his Father had sent him into the world at a time when chocolate hadn't been invented.  

It's also about resisting temptation and mastering your sinful side.  And the way to master your sinful side seems to be to make it harder to master your sinful side - that is, denying yourself something in order to create (and resist) the temptation for it.  

It's kind of crazy to risk failure by placing yourself in a position where success becomes less likely.  It's like deciding to run a marathon backwards / in a rhino costume / while holding a sprout between your buttocks - or indeed all three (though then how could the sprout be officially verified?) Surely just running a marathon is enough?

Resisting chocolate is not easy.  Ask my father, who recently ate a whole bar of Fruit and Nut just to ensure there really wasn't a single nut in it, and then wrote complaining to the manufacturer, enclosing only the empty wrapper as proof.  Resisting chocolate on Day 39, when you've been without it so long that your dreams smell of Toblerone and you start wondering whether that Maltesers packet in the litter bin really is empty, can feel superhuman.  

Research has shown that a four-year old's ability to defer gratification ('You can have this marshmallow or I'll come back in 15 minutes and give you two') is a major indicator of success in life.  So despite my early disdain, it seems Giving Up is the way to Get Ahead. Or, to paraphrase, if you want to keep something, you have to lose it first.  

Of course the experiment they haven't yet done goes something like, 'You can have this marshmallow now, or you can pick up that cross and follow the long-haired bloke up that mountain.'  Tricky one.