training-color-retOne of Liam’s vocabulary words gave me my Lenten focus this year. It wasn’t “sacrifice” or “alms” or even “penitent.” Rather, it was savor.

I am notoriously bad at traditional Lenten practices such as giving up food or drink. One year, I gave up chocolate, and lasted exactly two days, until a co-worker brought in a Ho-Ho cake for her birthday. I decided, upon seeing the shiny chocolate frosting, that it was an unreasonably difficult choice for my Lent and switched to giving up soda, which I hardly ever drank anyway.

Another year, when I was a mostly-vegetarian, I found that I ate meat only on several of the Fridays in Lent – I wasn’t buying meat for myself at the time, but I ended up at Friday-night parties hosted by non-Catholics, and before it registered that it was Lent, the buffalo chicken wing was a delicious memory.

A couple years ago, I decided that perhaps I wasn’t called to give up food or drink for Lent. (Saying you’re not called to something is a fantastic way for Catholics to avoid doing difficult things.) After all, food and drink did not seem to get in the way of my relationship with God or other people, so what was the point?

As my older children started giving up treats for Lent though, with clearly more discipline than I had, it became necessary for me to reckon with the fact that fasting is one of the three main parts of Lent, along with almsgiving and prayer. Prayer and almsgiving seemed to come so much more naturally to me. Possibly because you can eat M&Ms while writing out the check to Rice Bowl. 

But then, a week into Lent, Liam arrived with his need to be quizzed on his vocabulary words, and amid the insidious, figment and bolster, I bumped into savor.

“To give oneself to the enjoyment of,” it said by way of definition. And as an example, “To savor the best in life.”

And reading that definition, it occurred to me how rarely I truly savored anything. The example of “savoring the best in life” hit me especially hard. My kids were healthy and happy; my marriage was strong; work was satisfying. Why wasn’t I savoring it more? Why did I spend so much of my present calendaring the events of the future? 

Children are particularly good at savoring – at giving themselves over to enjoyment. When Jamie is going down a slide, she is present to that slide; she has given herself over to the enjoyment of that slide. She is not thinking about the homework she will need to do in a half hour or the pile of papers on the floor of her bedroom. She is savoring her ride down the slide.

I decided that this Lent, I would try to savor more. It hasn’t been easy. Part of my problem is there is too much to savor. It would be wonderful, for example, to savor listening to Jamie play the piano, but at the same time as her piano lesson, someone needs to be making a dinner that we can all savor. I savored the fact that Jacob got his driver’s license for about 12 minutes before I needed to send him off on an errand with the car.  

The events I’m supposed to savor are crashing into me like waves. It was all I could do to be present to the children and my husband on our fun family weekend away before my savory new job started.

And as I look around at other parents, I see I am not alone. Parenthood is an exhausting blend of meaningful moments interspersed with tedious and time-consuming chores. Add onto that the big issues that are part of everyone’s 30s and 40s – job moves, housing choices, aging parents and financial concerns – and it is obvious why savoring does not come naturally to many.

But fasting doesn’t come naturally, either. And just as it is an intentional choice to look past the Ho Ho cake in an effort to sacrifice, it is an intentional choice to pull T to my lap for a snuggle in an effort to savor. It’s an intentional choice to stop worrying about the broken garage door long enough to let Jacob tell an uninterrupted story about his day. It’s an intentional choice to stop checking email so my husband and I can have a conversation.

For if “to savor” is to give oneself over in enjoyment of something, the opposite of savoring is experiencing an event unthinkingly. The opposite of savoring the “best things in life,” in the example given, would be to barely notice them in our rush to move to the next event. Dangerous. It shouldn’t take a crisis to make us slow down.

So this Lent, if you see me with a big hunk of chocolate cake, you’ll understand why. I’m saving the sacrifice piece for another Lent. Hopefully, though, you’ll see me savoring that cake. And more importantly, savoring the person who is with me as I eat it.

(Scobey-Polacheck, her husband, Bill, and their children belong to St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Milwaukee, and St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay. Scobey-Polacheck welcomes dialog regarding her column. Email her at