A De-Caffeinated Reflection on Lent 2016

I have always been a bit of a coffee fiend. Okay, maybe more than a bit. I’ve had my first cup when I was only 8 years old. I remember seeing my grandpa having his afternoon coffee and then asking my grandma if I could have one too, just to be like him. Without hesitation, grandma would give me a tall glass mug with a dab of honey in it and send me back home to my parents afterwards. That might explain why I was such a rambunctious child back then.

I didn’t start drinking the dark, heavenly nectar on a regular basis until after high school. For the first two months of my school-free life, I worked as a concrete laborer and would often punch in 10, sometimes 12 hour days. There was a McDonald’s and a Shell across the street from the jobsite I was at, so every time I clocked out I would grab a Reese’s from Shell and a large coffee from McDonald’s on my way home.

In my early twenties, I worked on a framing crew while building 2000 square-foot suburban homes. We usually started work at 6 a.m. and, quite often, worked 14 hour days including weekends. Because my work days were so long, I was adamant to have a social life when I was off-duty so I learned to function with very little sleep. I usually made the pit stop at Tim Horton’s on my way to work as well as on the way home. I had also developed a smoking habit, so the combination of coffee and cigarettes became a craving that was killing me softly in an unhealthy bliss.

Once I had kids, my caffeine consumption went through the roof. I did not know what lack of sleep truly was until my second child was born. Thankfully I quit smoking years before this happened, but I found myself sliding down the slippery slope consuming from 2 cups to over a pot a day. And by that time, my job had also evolved from moving quickly on the shop floor to sitting at a desk and doing shop drawings on AutoCAD, so I wasn’t getting nearly as much exercise as I used to as a tradesman. When the feeling of fatigue would start to tighten it’s grip on my brain, it became too easy to pound back another glorious java.

My buddy and I recently had a conversation about our insatiable lust for coffee. He had mentioned he felt wired after having 3 cups that day, to which I responded,

“That’s it?”

“What do you mean, that’s it?!” he replied. “How much do you drink every day?”

“Um,” I murmured sheepishly, “one and a half pots? Maybe two?”

“Dude! That’s so bad for you!” he half-jokingly reprimanded me.

Knowing that Lent was coming up in less than a week away, it gave me the internal conviction that maybe I should try and wean myself off. In previous years, I used to joke every year I was giving up Lent for Lent. But after finally considering to put my Catholic faith into practice, I figured maybe this would be a good way to get back into the swing of things. So I counted the days before Ash Wednesday, anticipating a healthy change yet dreading what was yet to come.

The first few days were just okay. I brewed myself a lightly caffeinated ‘breakfast’ tea to tide myself over every morning to avoid my excruciating withdrawal headaches. The funny thing was I found myself brewing a lot of hot water and reusing the tea bag I had started using every morning. On the bright side, drinking ‘pee water’ tea was a good way to keep myself hydrated. On the other hand, I probably could have acquired the same effect on my craving by slapping a bunch of tea bags to my arms as a caffeine patch. No matter how much tea I was drinking, it wasn’t the same.

By the time day four came around, I was extremely lethargic and feeling down emotionally. I happened to be building rails in the shop on that day and one of my bosses walked up to me and asked,

“Are you okay? You don’t look well!”

I explained to her that I had given up coffee, and I was surprised to hear her praise my efforts.

“That’s awesome! Good for you! But if I catch you working too slow, I’m brewing you a pot of coffee!”

“I probably won’t turn it down,” I laughed.

By the time over a week had passed by, I was extremely irritable. I had a splitting headache and I had no desire to talk to or be around anyone. Nothing would have satisfied me more than running around the neighbourhood smashing mailboxes with a baseball bat and dunking my head into a five-gallon bucket of fresh brew.

After about 2 weeks, the angry bear inside began to simmer down and my body was accustomed to not inhaling an extra-large dose of joe every morning. However, the reminders were everywhere. I would walk through the grocery store and suddenly pass through the cloud of aroma surrounding the resident Starbucks. Driving down the streets I would pass by every McDonald’s, Second Cup and Tim Horton’s with their welcomingly convenient drive-thru’s calling my name. It was like experiencing the temptation a cartoon lion would have when he hallucinates all his animal friends turning into t-bone steaks.

Just as I thought I was doing great, I pass through the McDonald’s drive-thru to buy my wife some chicken nuggets when I suddenly see this….

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What kind of masochism is this?! The angry-bear in me was ready to go on a rampage. If I had a swear-jar, I would have filled it with enough money to buy myself a brand new espresso machine. I wanted to hit up every single McDonald’s in the city and hoard all the small coffees I could acquire. I could have easily indulged myself in a small, hot and delicious coffee that would have cost me absolutely nothing except for the progress I had made thus far. God had been testing me without a doubt, and all I wanted was a flippin’ cup of coffee!

One of my Catholic friends told me this was not uncommon during Lent. Conveniently, businesses like Tim Horton’s even place their Roll-Up-The-Rim season around this time. Maybe it’s a way to win back their Catholic customers who chose to give up coffee and sugar in order to make up for a drop in sales? Who knows.

One of the biggest misconceptions about Lent is it is used to become a ‘better’ Christian, which I will admit was my initial thought. I could think of many things that seem to take control of my life in place of God or my family like coffee, sugar, music, alcohol, excessive spending or internet usage. The biggest part about Lent I found this year was the reflective aspects of it.

Sometimes in order to move forward in a relationship, whether that be with God or with family and friends, sacrifices need to be made. I knew coffee would have been one of the most difficult things for me to give up because I relied on it so much to feel good and pull through the uphill struggle of daily life. If all of a sudden I was in a situation where there was no coffee available, I would be the most miserable person to be around. My constant reliance on substance in order to feel good was something that has directed my focus away from what I consider to be important in my life.

Some have asked me if I’ve ever returned to drinking coffee after Easter. My answer is a resounding ‘yes!’ However, I will try my best to keep a limit on how much I consume every day – maybe one cup in the morning and one in the afternoon. I would hope I do not go back to the insane amounts I was drinking before. Giving it up for the first time in almost 14 years is something I never want to go through again, and I never want to have to give it up again.

If Christ suffered and died on the cross for me, I think He deserves everything I can offer – my heart, body, soul, strength and especially the material objects I’m most unwilling to let go of that are so small in comparison to what awaits in the life hereafter.

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