Dining In

Happy Thanksgiving! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how when we stop to think about what we’re grateful for, our thoughts tend to automatically turn to those who don’t have those things. When I am grateful for a warm house as the weather gets colder, I think of those who don’t have heat or even a home. When I am grateful for my health, family or employment, I can’t help but feel for those who are struggling in those areas. I think that’s why Thanksgiving and Christmas are so intertwined for many of us – there’s almost a seamless transition from giving thanks to giving gifts.

At the beginning of October, I heard the following sermon on helping the poor by Jeffrey R. Holland during the LDS General Conference and was moved to loud, ugly-cry-sobbing tears as he reminded us that, “the great Redeemer has issued no more persistent call than for us to join Him in lifting this burden from the people.”

“In our day, the restored Church of Jesus Christ had not yet seen its first anniversary when the Lord commanded the members to ‘look to the poor and … needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 38:35) Note the imperative tone of that passage—’they shall not suffer.’ That is language God uses when He means business.”

Without specifying exactly how we should go about helping the poor, he urged us to “do what we can.” I thought about what I could do and we discussed as a family ways we could do more. But for the rest of the month I kept remembering this talk and I became very aware of how often I indulge myself just because I think I deserve it.

You know that conversation you have in your mind as you pull up to the drive-thru? “It’s been a long day and I’ve worked so hard. I totally deserve this Oreo Blizzard, Lime Rickey or Costa Vida mango chicken salad.” I know it’s not terrible to treat myself once in a while, but lately I’ve noticed a pattern of overindulgence.

Same goes for weeknights when making dinner for the family seems impossible, especially with a drive thru Little Caesar’s Pizza a few blocks away. Or weekends when going out to eat is the date night activity of choice almost every week. After a combined nine years of grad school-induced frugality, we feel entitled to treat ourselves once in a while, but we haven’t really been trying to think of less expensive alternatives.

Mormons observe Fast Sunday once a month by fasting for 24 hours and then donating what they would have spent on food to the church specifically to distribute to the less fortunate. As I thought about what I could do this month to express my gratitude, practice some restraint, and find my own way to give to those who don’t have the luxury to indulge, I decided to have my own “fast” for the month of November. I would avoid eating out at restaurants and donate the money I saved to the food bank.

As I thought about how I would pull it off, I realized it all came down to planning.The first Saturday of the month, I prepared by making nine freezer meals to have on hand for those crazy (or lazy) nights I would usually be tempted to get pizza. I planned dates for us that wouldn’t require eating out. I thought ahead and packed a lunch if I knew I wouldn’t be home in time. And I stopped telling myself I deserved a treat for every little thing I accomplished.

Full disclosure: I did eat out twice this month – once with some friends since the get-together had been planned for several weeks, and once for a family party to celebrate my brother-in-law’s Iron Man finish. Both worthy exceptions to my otherwise restaurant-free month, I thought.

I was amazed that it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. And I was even more amazed to discover just how much money I saved. Plus, as an unintended but not surprising bonus, I lost five pounds this month, although judging from the number of pies I just made, I might gain them all back today.

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