How prayer–and a pared down pantry–helped one woman break her chocolate addiction.
I eyed the chocolate cake sitting on my counter. Swirls of rich dark frosting dripped down a moist devil's food cake. The kitchen still retained the aroma of a baked cake. I'd cleaned up and washed the frosting bowl. Now I was ready to dig in and reward myself.
I loved chocolate in any form–candy bars, kisses, hearts with marshmallow filling, M&Ms that I could pop into my mouth like...well, like candy. But I had a particularly intense passion for cake.
I cut a slice and took two bites–what could be better?–before I phoned one of my friends. "How are you?" I asked, dipping my finger into a sliver of icing.
"Grouchy," she told me. "I gave up sugar for Lent."
"Hmm," I said. I'd forgotten it was Lent. My friend often gave up something, usually food. One year it was carbohydrates, even potatoes. She said that it was a form of fasting–giving up something you loved so you could concentrate on something you loved even more.
"It must be hard," I said. Giving up food of any kind didn't make sense to me. It would be like giving up air.
"The first few days are always the worst."
Besides, it might be fine for my friend, but none of the things I liked were such obsessions that they ever got in the way of prayer. There was definitely a dividing line in my life between the spiritual and the material. Or so I thought.
After I got off the phone I returned to my chocolate cake. I was about to take another humongous bite when I heard a voice inside my head say: "You should give up chocolate."
How could I do that? Chocolate got me through the day. I loved a handful of M&Ms at breakfast–they gave me a boost first thing in the morning. I kept a candy bar in my purse, something to tide me over till lunch. And in the afternoon with tea what could be better than a piece of chocolate cake?
I should have worn one of those T-shirts that said, "It's not dessert if it's not chocolate."
"You couldn't live without it," my husband, Milton, would often tell me. "You're addicted."
"Nonsense," I told him. "I could give it up anytime I wanted to."
"Prove it," a voice said now. "Give it up for Lent."
"Okay," I said to myself. "I'll do it. Just to prove my point."
The first thing I did was clean out my hiding places. I couldn't believe how many there were.
The sock drawer in my bedroom bureau with all those Hershey's kisses. The candy dish behind the popcorn tin in the cupboard. Chocolate chips in the freezer. The jumbo sack of M&Ms stashed in the pantry. I dumped all of them into the trash. "Live my life without chocolate? Easy."
But then it started. The obsession. Chocolate. All I could think about was chocolate. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. I kept fantasizing about a big Hershey's bar with crunchy almonds in it. I'd roll down the foil and eat one letter at a time: H-E-R-S-H-E-Y-S.
Every time I walked through the pantry my hand went automatically for my stash of M&Ms...and came up empty. I couldn't believe how much I missed it.
"What's wrong?" Milton asked that first night.
"Nothing," I snarled.
My body craved chocolate. My nerves longed for the quick fix of just one bite. Without that rush I was like an addict going through withdrawal. I yawned at breakfast, got crabby after lunch and dozed off during the evening news.
Forty days! How was I ever going to last 40 days? I tried walking. Wouldn't a bit of fresh air do me some good (in the freezing cold)?
I dug out a set of pillowcases to embroider. I took up chewing gum. I sang. I played the piano. Anything to distract me. Anything to keep my mind off of my singular obsession. "Is this the point of fasting?" I wondered. It made me almost more obsessive.
But then, if I hadn't given up chocolate, I would never have known how much control it had over me. I realized I was a slave to chocolate!
I looked for dessert recipes without chocolate. I mixed eggs and milk together for plain custard (where was the kick?). I substituted angel food cake for devil's food cake (aptly named, I realized). I piled apples and oranges in a bowl on the counter and grabbed one whenever I craved a candy bar.
What could I do to survive these long days of Lent? I knew. Pray.
I'd gone into this thinking that chocolate and faith had no connection in my life. I now understood they were deeply interconnected. I was powerless over chocolate. It controlled me in a very real sense.
In my desperation I knew that prayer was my only hope. I was not strong enough to make this sacrifice unaided. Every time I had the urge for chocolate I prayed.
I thanked God for all the other "sweet things" in my life. It didn't always banish the craving for Hershey kisses. But it gave me a fighting chance. It revealed the true power in my life and, yes, definitely, I grew closer to my Maker.
For the first time I grasped the purpose of giving up something for Lent. It's not that chocolate is bad. In fact, chocolate has many qualities that are quite healthy, including important antioxidants.
But when chocolate has too great an influence on your life–like anything you might love just a little too much–then it's worth giving up for 40 days. Just to see the effect it has.
I discovered that my love of chocolate was playing too great a role in my life. Fortunately, I was able to bring it under control. We can like something so much that it distances us from God. I couldn't let a piece of chocolate cake do that.