I’m Not Giving up Elephants for Lent!

Okay, so nobody said anything about elephants, which is good because although I haven’t seen a live elephant in at least a week, I have been hooked on a herd of elephants from the book The Elephant Whisperer, by the late author, Lawrence Anthony.  And I refuse to give up either the book or the real life adventure that is South African wildlife viewing. Not during Lent. Not during our entire time living in Africa.

On my list of 24 books by 24 South African writers in 24 months, The Elephant Whisperer has become one of my favorites. So I thought I would combine my Lenten post with this new Writer Wednesday favorite. Kurt’s now reading it and we’re both looking forward to reading Anthony’s The Last Rhinos as well.

South Africa travel
I am not giving up elephants for Lent, or this delicious Elephant Whisperer book!

But wait. What the heck do elephants have to do with Lent? Well, nothing, really, except that during Lent you give up something you really enjoy, right? At least some years feel like that kind of torture, depending on what you give up for those 40 days.

Today is the first day of Lent, and while Kurt and I do not have all the same rituals as some, we enjoy choosing one or two things to give up during this traditional period of fasting.

But this year, we’re trying something new!

I introduced a friend here to the way some of us Americans celebrate the Tuesday before Lent. Known as Shrove Tuesday in many parts of the world, and apparently celebrated with pancakes in a lot of places, the Tuesday before Lent is a day of indulgence in the things which will be given up for Lent.  In The States we call it “Fat Tuesday” (the translation of “Mardi Gras” from French to English).  I took her and a few colleagues some cupcakes from a local coffee shop so I could spread the indulgence around a bit.

South Africa travel
A Fat Tuesday cupcake.  What do you give up for Lent?      [Photo credit: Karen Venter]
While Americans in different parts of the country celebrate it differently (and some even barely note its passing except to turn on the television to watch the New Orleans orgy of beads and alcohol and music) many of us who already know what we’ll be giving up for Lent have extra helpings of that item on Fat Tuesday.

My past 40 days of torture included items like Coke, coffee, chocolate, or a combination of sugary sweets. I’ve also included things like television and other habits I wanted to try to break by having total abstinence for a period of time.

Niederegger Lubeck marzipan Bree Olson chocolate porn
One of my biggest weaknesses: chocolate and marzipan. Fortunately I haven’t found any to my taste here in South Africa, so this is one weakness that has to wait until a visit to the states.

Although I like to call it “torture,” Lent isn’t meant to be punishment. It’s meant to be a way to strengthen our virtues and weaken our vices.

A friend of mine from the states sent me a message about their Lenten restraints this year and I was blown away. She, her husband, and their daughter have each chosen something to give up, and they have each given a request to each other of something they would like to see their loved ones change.

I was really moved by their new Lenten tradition, and Kurt and I have decided to incorporate a similar tradition (although we are a little chicken and opted to give each other choices). We have given each other 3 things we would like the other person to remove or add for 40 days, and we each get to pick one of the three things.

The 3 options I gave Kurt are:

  1. Have 3 workout sessions per week, no matter what, even if it means three nights in a row, or going on a Saturday or Sunday, whatever it takes to get 3 a week (minimum 20 minutes in a session).
  2. Drink a cup of green tea once per day.
  3. No sugar-added drinks of any kind: no coke, iced tea, anything. Only water or unsweetened (not artificially sweetened) beverages such as unsweetened tea, milk, or fresh squeezed juices without added sugar.

Although he only had to pick one, Kurt decided to make one of them his own Lenten change as well, so he is doing both 1 and 3.

The 3 options Kurt gave me are:

  1. No swearing
  2. No coffee
  3. At least three cardio sessions a week. (at least 20 min.)  [He knows that while I work out 5 days a week on strength training, my cardio sessions are hit or miss]

I chose 1 and 3 also, but added a 3rd item not on the list (uh yeah, not that whole coffee deal.)

So what is my self-imposed Lenten change for 40 days?

24 hours of writing/revision per week. I’ve already paved the way to some of those hours by making Monday and Wednesday black-out days where the only online interaction I can have is related to my writing career, but I will be keeping track of my time better.

writing psychosis non-fiction fiction memoir
Manuscript revision at a guest house near Pretoria.

I have allowed the mandate that “spouses are not to work in South Africa” to lure me into a sense of complacency. I dropped the discipline I had while working for others. It’s time for a reboot of those work ethics and start giving them to myself again. We spent a lot of money on my Master’s degree (MFA) in Writing, and it’s time to get back to work. 

And yeah, maybe part of what it means to be a traveling writer is experiential. It involves a little bit of time viewing elephants and other wildlife, or reading The Elephant Whisperer a second time, and maybe even taking a trip to the famous Thula Thula Reserve from the book. But I’m spending too much time gathering ideas and not enough setting them to paper and sharing the work with others. So those 24 hours don’t include the “fun stuff”. It is for the writing, the revision, the not-so-fun task of seeing a manuscript through to the end, cutting out sections I love for the greater good of the story, and meeting deadlines even when the sun is shining and I know there are cuddly lion cubs only an hour’s drive away.

So, readers, I’m sure I’m not the only one taking herself to task this Lent. What are your additions and deletions for the next 40 days?

Love, Marla

P.S. Want to know more about this book I’m talking about? I honestly can’t do it any more justice than this beautiful write-up on the actual Elephant Whisperer site and Thula Thula reserve.


Giving Up?


Rainbow vs. Garieb: Thoughts on the New South Africa

24 Books in 24 Months by 24 South African Writers: All Things Wild and Wonderful

9 thoughts on “I’m Not Giving up Elephants for Lent!

  1. The no Coffee would be vetoed immediately by me. For one, my husband was never raised Catholic so “giving up” is just not something he ever does! Both of us coffee addicts, I couldn’t stand smelling him brewing his and not having some myself!
    Besides, I’m a complete zombie every morning without my first cup! Pop products and Teas are not good enough! Lol Nobody wants to see an decaffeinated Lea!
    It was hard enough cutting back to one when I was pregnant! Lol
    Good choice not picking that! Lol

  2. Many years ago I decided, like New Years resolutions I could not maintain the forty days of ‘giving up’ things. It was more effective to try to add things to my life, whether those things were positive reinforcements or positive activities. Even this sometimes missed, but still it was more effective and more uplifting.

    This year, with all that has happened in a very short time I need the uplifting.

    * Give up bitterness, focus on loving
    * Give up anger, focus on positive memories
    * Give up beating myself up for my failures, focus on my successes
    * Get back into the gym (even if this means going back to my physical therapist first)

  3. My dissertation is assuring I give lots up during Lent – but I think it’s caused me to add swearing !! ;(. Anyway, I hear you on the revision process. It IS surely one of pain to be able to gain. Hey…maybe that means it’s a work-out!

  4. I have this on my fridge all the time now: I got it from our church bulletin last Lent.
    Give up complaining – focus on gratitiude.
    Give up harsh judgments – think kind thoughts.
    Give up worry – trust God to provide.
    Give up bitterness – turn to forgiveness.
    Give up hatred – return good for evil.
    Give up anger – be more patient.
    Give up pettiness – become mature.
    Give up jealousy – pray for trust.
    Give up gossiping – control your tongue.
    Give up sin – turn to virtue.
    Give up giving up – perservere.
    Some are easy but I really need to work on being more patient and not just for six weeks.

    Still lovin’ your blog, Marla, even though I don’t usually comment.

  5. I realize Lent starts today, but true to my ways, I’m having trouble settling on what to sacrifice. I know that I want to ADD some things into my life/routine that nurture the existing relationships in my life, including the relationship with myself. And I want to eliminate some of the negatives about myself…..like swearing, yes (especially because Adeline is a total parrot now!), but also just being a negative-Nelly. I blame the cabin fever and long, hard winter, but I know that I have my times of total pessimism even in the perfectly lovely days of Spring and Summer. Missing you like crazy, but I don’t think I’ll be able to quit that, not even for Lent!

    1. Boy that one really made me cry. I miss you so much, too, Brianna.
      It’s so funny about the swearing. Are we a whole family of potty mouths or what?
      I love you more than cow.

  6. I am giving up swearing as well! I would also like to incorporate some volunteering (maybe 40 hours? I haven’t really planned this out yet) I’m glad I stumbled across your blog, I look forward to reading more!

    1. That’s awesome. And I love that you’re a deadlifter. My max was 100kg (about 225lbs) and then I hurt my back so my physio has me off of them (he thinks permanently, but I say temporarily). 😉
      Nice to meet a fellow female lifter, and a serious one at that!

      Good luck finding your volunteer passion and good luck not swearing (very difficult for me.)

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