I am studying a package of graham crackers with a quizzical eye. Although it may not be obvious to the casual observer, I am actually engaging in a bit of philosophy as I lift a cracker and carefully turn it over in my hands.

It’s Lent, and what’s happening is very predictable. You see, I’ve given up sweets, so now I’m questioning the meaning of the term.

In short, I want to know: Does a graham cracker count as a cookie? If it’s a cookie, of course it’s off-limits, but if it’s a cracker—well, you get the picture.

I recall how incensed I was when a friend confided that she always gave up sweets for Lent, and then ordered one of those double-chocolate lattes with whipped cream on top.

I didn’t say a word to her, but my holier-than-thou persona was kicking up quite a fuss. It was shouting, “Girlfriend, drinking those fancy coffees is cheating!”

Later, I realized what was really going on: I was actually confronting my Lenten beasts.

St. Mark mentions that there were wild animals with Christ when he went into the desert. There is no description of them, and there needn’t be, because the very thought gives me the creeps.

There was Jesus, going without food for 40 days in the desert, a lonely place where the temperatures plummet at night. He was no doubt hungry and shivering—and what did he have to contend with? Wild animals!

Then I think about my own Lenten menagerie.

First there’s the big slobbering beast called pride. He’s the one who goads me to pass judgment on other people’s Lenten sacrifices. I feel the hideous heat of his heinous breath whenever someone tells me what they’re sacrificing for Lent, and I think: “Hah! That’s nothing!”

Pride hangs around with another fellow, a horned, hirsute beast called self-pity. Especially on mornings when I have the blues, this monster assures me that a nice cupcake will cheer me up.

“But what about breaking my Lenten promise?” I protest, and he murmurs: “God will understand.”

I try to banish self-pity by reminding myself of all the comforts I’m not giving up during Lent. There’s my morning cup of fragrant coffee, my two mugs of milky tea at lunch, and my weekend glasses of wine.

And let’s not forget my fluffy pig slippers, my plush bed complete with feather pillows, and those luxuriously long hot showers.

I think you get the picture. I’m living a rather lavish life, to put it mildly, so there’s no reason for me to expect to sprout a halo just because I’m going without sweets.

But then, just as I think I’ve vanquished all the monsters, another one shows up. He’s a ferocious furry fellow with fetid fangs—and he is carrying, of all things, a dictionary.

“Just what IS a sweet anyway?” he asks me. And then we are off and running: Does a frosted muffin count? What about animal crackers?

Lest the beasts get the best of me, I ponder what else was mentioned in that Scriptural passage about Christ’s stay in the desert: “Angels came and ministered to him.”

Obviously, it’s time I prayed for some angels to show up. Surely they’ll help me during Lent as I strive to tame this menagerie of monsters.

And who knows? The angels also might have the definitive answer on the graham cracker question.

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