Praying for perspective: Coming to terms with Lent and a tattletale conscience

By George Valadie

It happened to me just last week.

I’d love to say it was the first time ever, but I’d be lying. I messed up and ate meat — on a Friday. I swear it was just an accident, perhaps the sort that has happened to you at some time in your life?

And when I realized what I had done, a family trip from years ago came flashing back.

We’d been traveling that week, thankful for the chance to visit relatives, but ready to get on home, if you know what I mean.

With car packed and goodbyes said, we hit the road early, hoping to arrive at a decent hour. Nancy was excited for the weekend ahead to get our lives reorganized and our underwear drawers refilled before the weekday routines began all over again.

Much like we do whenever we travel, we usually make it about three whole miles — yes, three — before stopping at a nearby McDonald’s.

You know how they say “breakfast is the most important meal”? None of them could ever explain to me how not one single soul in our house ever ate a bite of it … not until we were under the golden arches.

So with our favorites in front of us, each preparing for that first bite, Sarah, the youngest, hollers out, “It’s Friday! It’s Lent! We’re not supposed to eat meat.”

It’s always the youngest, isn’t it?

And there was the problem.

With no forethought other than taste buds and stomachs, each had accidentally ordered some sausage, though no sin in that for sure.

But now there was this decision to be made. You know the one — you’ve faced it, haven’t you?

Eat it? Or don’t? Whatever the choice, it’s the thought process that tortures us, isn’t it? After all, only six Fridays in Lent and you hate to mess up even one of those. So we give pause.

On the one hand, it’s already sitting there in front of us. If we don’t go ahead and enjoy it, what will happen to it?

Tossed into one of those famously familiar brown garbage cans by the door, a worker will transfer it to their

Dumpster before the city drags it away to the dump.

Not eating it now provides zero nutrition for anyone. Not the hungry, not the homeless.

Actually, not eating it now will be nothing more than a complete waste of this food, a waste of this resource — and that feels like more of a sin, doesn’t it?

Given all that we have the privilege to enjoy and knowing that hundreds of millions have none, doing anything with it other than eating it just seems wrong.

Those years ago, I actually remember asking if I could give it back (“I didn’t touch it, I swear”) so they might sell it to the next customer. It turns out the Health Department wasn’t cool with that. And if I’m that customer, I guess I wouldn’t have been either.

So what does God want me to do?

I guess He just wants me to go ahead and eat it, enjoy it, acknowledge my mistake, do better. Or does He?

At this point of the debate, I had eaten a fair amount of the rest of my breakfast, but had yet to eat any of that sausage patty, sliding it aside, not really trashing it, still trying to decide.

The argument raged on in my head.

Was I just rationalizing? Was this almost-made decision, paired with my “pretty-sure-God’s-OK-with-it” belief, just a way to eat the sausage that kept looking better and better while wanting to feel burden-free about my choice?

And then … you’re right, George, no one else is going to eat this. But be honest, you’ve thrown out food before, and you’ve never given a bit of thought to that, have you? Put it in one of those little Styrofoam boxes and take it home; you’re gonna be there in five hours.Yeah, it might go bad, but come on, at least make some effort! You know what’s right. Eat the eggs, skip the darn sausage.

Somedays, I hate my conscience.

It also reminded me that, 2,000 years ago, it was a Friday just like this one when He watched His own Son die. It was a Friday just like this one that He turned His boy into a sacrifice on our behalf. My own sausage-eating behalf.

Now, these many years later, I think I may have actually figured out the answer to that quandary.

I think God wishes I would put the same kind of thought into the real problems of this world.

“Oh, George … you’re right about one thing, there are hungry people out there, and they’re not that far from your reach. Have you ever spent this much time thinking about them?

“How about the sick who need visiting and the research that needs funding? Have you dwelled on those at all? Or the abused or the alone? The homeless or the hopeless?

“I appreciate your worry  about this meatless Friday, I really do. Thank you. But please don’t forget that other big stuff — that stuff — or should I say those people — they matter, too. Maybe more.

“As for the meat thing, I’ll leave that up to you. Until next time. – God”

I hate it when He does that.

Dear God – Our sacrifices will never match yours. Thank you for all that means today and later. Amen.

George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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