I really wanted the Sonic drink.
It had been a very long day — with grocery runs and sniffly kids and two hours of live radio and attempting to keep a house moderately less filthy — and all I wanted was to drive into a spot at Sonic and order a large Coke with lime, easy ice.
It’s my weakness, that drink. Occasionally I’ll add cherry flavor, but generally, just the lime.
But it was the first Friday of Lent, and I gave up Sonic for Lent. So there I was sitting at the stoplight, fighting myself on whether or not I would turn left to Sonic or right to get home.
The honking pickup truck behind me snapped me from my momentary battle back to reality. “You cannot fail at Lent already” bounced through my mind.
Right I turned. To home I went. No Sonic Coke with lime in hand.
I wasn’t happy about it. Who would be? But I did feel somewhat accomplished as we sat down to our first Lenten meatless meal of air fried fish sticks and popcorn shrimp, having stuck to the most basic of Lenten fasting by not going to spend $2.50 on a large soft drink on the day that we’re invited to even more intentionally fast.
But as my pride swelled thinking of this tiny Lenten fasting victory, I felt a small nudge in my heart.
“Was that enough of a fast? It’s just a soda, after all. You could probably do more.”
From “I’m doing good” to “You aren’t doing enough” in less than an hour, I suddenly began beating myself up. I was being far too easy on myself, having sacrificed just one measly Sonic drink, rather than choosing something more intense, more sacrificial, more obviously penitential.
And so I went to bed that first Friday of Lent feeling like a failure, even though I’d honored one of my Lenten commitments. I’d convinced myself I was somehow displeasing to God and a disgrace to the Lenten season.
But I wasn’t a failure because my Lenten sacrifice was small. If anything, I was “failing” because I was beginning to think of Lent as a competition, with myself and others (though I hadn’t told anyone else what I was doing for the season).
I had, only two full days in, turned Lent into this liturgical March Madness that needed to happen in precisely the right way, or I’d be kicked out of the bracket I’d made for myself.
We do this far too often — make Lent a competition. Or we sit in our sacrifices and compare ourselves to others. “They’re praying the Stations of the Cross as a family. My kids barely sit still through grace before meals.” And we assume we’re losing Lent.
There’s no way to lose Lent. I guess the only way to “lose” at it would be to ignore it completely.
But if there’s effort at all — even if we think it’s measly or small — we are acknowledging that these 40 days are set apart in our year, a time to focus on what we can give up and what we can do to more fully pay attention to the Lord’s movement in our lives, and prepare for the greatest move he ever made: dying for our sins and defeating death with his resurrection.
If a few weeks into Lent you are thinking, “I’m not doing enough,” then perhaps add in more. If you are grumbling and hating every second of your Lenten days, then perhaps pivot to find something more fruitful.
But above all else, remember you can’t fail, not if you try even a little. Even if the trying just includes not buying the Sonic drink.
Katie Prejean McGrady is an award-winning author and host of The Katie McGrady Show on Sirius XM’s The Catholic Channel. She is a columnist for Catholic News Service and lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana, with her family.
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