Lent and the Donkey

Lent and the Donkey February 22, 2010

I’m an old lady about my dark chocolate. I eat the same kind every night at the same time.

My husband has tried in the past few years to give me special dark chocolate treats, stopping by the chocolate boutique for a few three dollar pieces as a romantic surprise, in search of the most holy of the chocolate tastes. And every one of those chocolates I have savored, I promise. But, I’m being honest here, I can’t get over Trader Joe’s Organic Super Dark chocolate bars (the purple wrapper!). Nothing is as good to me. Look, I appreciate dessert, but I’ve spent most of my life not needing it. Before I found dark chocolate (and in my single days, of course),  I was a girl who only bought ice cream when boys rejected my flirtation.

I changed. For the past three years, since discovering the joy of that purple wrapper, I’ve followed the same dessert routine every night at nine o’clock. I walk in my sweats to the kitchen, hear the click click click of the gas stove against my tea pot. And wait for what is always the same delicious treat: a cup of Decaf Irish Breakfast tea with milk and two squares of my favorite dark chocolate. Once I discovered my passionate love for the dc, there was no reason to go back. I will happily eat this dessert every night for the rest of my life.

This is why I’ve chosen to give up my beloved dark chocolate for Lent. I don’t really need to give up “sweets” for Lent. Sweets have never really mattered to me. What matters is the chocolate, friends. And I’m realizing how very much that chocolate matters.

What I love about Lent is that makes me really consider why I feel I need things in my life. It makes me question if I think I somehow deserve the extra lovlies I experience every day. I’ll be the first proponent of enjoying the beautiful things God has given us, especially when it comes to taste. God made me an eater. I love all food, the weirder the better: the stinkiest cheese, the slimiest raw sea thing, the savoriest meat. I love wine because when it’s relished it’s a drink that makes everything taste even more beautiful. And I love how God is part of that. I love the joy of fellowship around a table with friends. I love the sweetness of appreciating something God has provided and the purity of that sort of worship. But I’m taking away the chocolate for 40 days because I’m learning that when I think I need something that to most of the world is a rare and novel treat, I am believing in the allusion of our culture, that somehow it can satisfy me. I’m believing that if I just have more and more of something that God made good, that I will feel secure, complete. It never works.

We just came back from a fantastic retreat with our new church, where we heard from Dr. Mark Labberton, a thinker, theologian, and former pastor of First Presbyterian in Berkeley. His teaching was powerful and challenging. And I can’t stop thinking about a story he told about his son when he was four years old. They’d been reading a children’s storybook together about Palm Sunday, where Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem. After finishing the story, his son sat thinking for a while, stroking the felt picture on the front cover of Jesus and the donkey. His son said: “I know where Jesus lives.”

Labberton said, “Where does he live?”

“In my heart,” his son said.

“That’s wonderful, buddy,” Labberton said. “I’m so happy you know that Jesus lives in your heart.”

His little boy still sat deep in thought for a while. “But Dad,” he said, “where does the donkey live?”

“Buddy, the donkey lives in your heart too. That’s the problem.”

Of course the donkey lives in us too. Sometimes the donkey is pretty tame and Jesus is the one in charge. Sometimes the donkey takes over. Sometimes it’s all donkey.

I’m giving up dark chocolate for Lent, and in it’s place at night practicing a Review of Conscience as a spiritual discipline. I’m not doing it because chocolate is sinful or because chocolate is the donkey. I’m doing it because our culture makes it so easy to feed the donkey part of me by providing every easy thing. Sometimes, I can’t see the donkey because I have everything I could ever want. Evenings without my chocolate for this season is a rare chance to notice how much of my life is actually ruled by the donkey and not the one I call Master.

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