Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Of Salt and Paperclips

I have been in an early Friday morning Bible study with a half-dozen women for the last seven years. We have been observing Lent together for a few years now, even though most of them are Presbyterians; we tell each other before Ash Wednesday just what we're giving up, and we help keep each other accountable through the 40 days.

While I know that this is a spiritual discipline/sacrifice, it has inevitably produced some really funny situations. Such as the year I allowed myself to get re-addicted to Diet Coke so that I might give it up for Lent (yes, I know, it's appalling). Or the year we tried a reverse Lent, where we took on an activity instead of giving up something treasured.

This year as we got together for dinner on Mardi Gras and went around the table each telling our chosen sacrifices, one of the ladies rather hesitantly said that she was giving up salt. We all laughed at this, until she explained that it was a chronic addition - she could not eat practically anything without adding lots of salt to it. Her hesitation in telling us was that she feared it wasn't the "right" kind of Lenten sacrifice, and she was rather embarrassed despite our assurances that it was a really good idea even though somewhat unusual.

But the more you think about giving up salt, in some ways it is the quintessential Lenten sacrifice. You're giving up things that make life taste better. And sometimes it's those odd little decisions that make Lent even more meaningful than giving up chocolate or sweets.

Our group got together again for a birthday dinner recently, and as usual talked about how Lent was going. "Saltine" had been struggling, but God had really met her during this time, and every time she found herself reaching instinctively for a salt-shaker, she would mentally reach out to God instead. In addition, her husband had gotten involved. He had never given up anything for Lent before, but when she told him what she was doing, he found himself wondering what he might give up, and the answer was... paperclips.

Apparently, Saltine's husband has the bad habit of chewing on big metal paperclips throughout the day - they are literally EVERYWHERE; in the home, car, office, all easily at hand as though they were cigarettes. Not your garden-variety oral fixation. It had been difficult, to say the least, but he had perservered, and a lady in his office had finally said in amazement "What on earth is up with you? You haven't had a paperclip in your mouth for 5 days!" Saltine is really happy, as she can't stand this habit of his.

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