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I Gave Up My Cup of Joe for Lent… Here’s What I Learned

Article Type: Pastor to Pastor

By Rev. Phillip Leo, Church Communications Director

On Ash Wednesday, I decided to give up my afternoon cup of coffee. I allowed myself the grace of two step-down days which included one cup of half-decaf/half regular and then one cup of full decaf.

There began the longest Lenten season of my life.

At week two, I was asked about any spiritual insights garnered from my caffeine-free afternoons, and I flatly replied, “Not a single one.”

But by week four some thoughts began to gel, and I started taking notes. Here’s what I learned from giving up my afternoon cup of Joe during Lent…

  1. Chemical addictions run deep and are insanely powerful. There wasn’t a day during Lent that I didn’t pine for my afternoon cup of coffee. I was often tempted to cheat, but didn’t. Somehow, just writing about coffee turned out to be comforting. That is strange, right?
  2. I’m not that spiritual. I already knew this, but those six weeks of Lent confirmed it. When I lined up my dependence on caffeine alongside my dependence upon God, I wasn’t able to conclude that my desire for caffeine was just a substitute for my desire for God. I still feel like it’s “just” a physical dependency on the jolt I get from caffeine. Again, I’m not that spiritual.
  3. Faith costs something. Although certainly not a new insight, this one surprised me. Because of my freedom in Christ, faith expression for me tends towards “having it all.” Indeed, the very best version of me is the one who is living joyfully and soaking up God’s goodness every single day. But this means I tend to sweep suffering and hardship under the rug.
  4. Cost of Faith + Power of Habits = ??? I’m still learning about this one. When it comes to faith, few things are costlier to me than witnessing. It took many years to admit to myself (and to others) that I just don’t want to do it. But lately I’ve been challenged to consider my Christian witness and how it might be shared with others.

My afternoon yearnings for a cup of coffee, coupled with consideration of faith’s cost, sparked a question – What one habit can I cultivate that would help me grow in my witness? Answering this isn’t easy, but I’m happy knowing I’m asking exactly the right question!

“Giving stuff up” for Lent is a way to be reminded of Jesus’ pathway of suffering. It’s also a way to visualize that the Gospel costs something and so does following Jesus. Missing my daily afternoon cup of coffee brought this home to me in a vivid way. Although not truly costly by any standard, I can’t deny what it yielded in me.

Maybe there’s more to self-denial than meets the eye. I might even make a habit of it!

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Rev. Phillip Leo is the Church Communications Director at Barnabas Foundation. Read Phil's online bio.