The time-honored practice of giving up some licit pleasure for Lent takes many forms. One popular choice is sweets, which is a real pain when there are lots of spring birthdays among people you know. Another is alcohol: this has the added bonuses of enlarging your wallet and reducing your waistline. The truly stout-hearted give up meat for all 40 days--these are braver men than I.
Me? I gave up popcorn.
"What kind of ridiculous choice is that?" you may ask. Oh, it's not ridiculous at all. I couldn't think of anything better.
There are few things I enjoy more in life than a big bowl of hot, salty, buttered popcorn, with a glass of something cold and sweet at hand. When I want to relax after a long day of work and study, when I've had a rough day or experienced some setback, when I want a little comfort or good feeling, nothing quite satisfies me as this all-American treat.
Maybe for you this same function is fulfilled by a hunk of chocolate, or a gin and tonic, or a 12-oz. steak. But whatever it is, the point for all of us in giving something up is encapsulated by Our Lord in his confrontation with Satan during his temptation in the desert. Jesus, having fasted for days and days, was hungry. Satan, being the devious son-of-a-gun that he is, tempted Jesus to turn the stones before him into bread. Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."
The purpose of fasting is to concentrate our minds and our wills on God. When I deny myself food or pleasure, and then the desire for those things needles at me, I remember that what I need most is not food or pleasure, not a bowl of popcorn or the tasty sensation that accompanies it, but rather God, His love, His goodness, His grace. Giving up these other good things for a period of time helps us to reorient ourselves, re-calibrate our priorities, re-establish the elements of our lives in their proper order.
So, when I've had a long day or a tough day and get a hankering for some popcorn, this Lent has helped me to realize that what I'm really hankering for is God. When I want some hot buttery goodness, what I really want is prayer, and grace, and the peace that only comes from union with the Creator of all things, popcorn included. I know that. I try to live it. But man, writing about this really makes me want a bowl of popcorn right now.