By the time you read this, I will have schmutz on my forehead.

The use of Yiddish to describe a solemn Christian tradition might seem out-of-place. However, as Christian-specific a holiday as today might be, its theme of sacrifice spans faiths. A conversation I had ran like this:

“You giving something up for Lent?” I asked.

“Why? I’m not Catholic,” my friend responded.

My friend’s religious beliefs aside, he should see Lent as an opportunity to abstain from those little vices that pack on the extra pounds, give us the smoker’s cough or fill up our hard drives with embarrassingly raunchy pornography.

Ash Wednesday heralds the beginning of March Madness for Catholics. We get to take our guilt to the extreme and spend 40 days thinking about how sinfully indulgent we are the other 325 days. That may sound like the worst proselytizing bid ever, but I’m not encouraging everybody to go Catholic. Pew space is hard enough to get on Easter morning. I’m only suggesting that a predetermined period of self-denial is good for anybody, regardless of where one’s religious affiliations lie.

If I recall my catechism, Lent is the 40-day period preceding Easter during which the members of some Christian denominations remember Christ’s suffering. This was the point in the presentation during which Sister Margaret Ann presented an especially gory picture of Jesus’ death scream on the cross at Calvary to me and about twenty other 8-year-olds.

“Jesus died for your sins, Drew” she belted out with a delivery more fitting of a Joan Crawford impersonator than a woman of the cloth. I remember suddenly regretting throwing sand at Kristen Roberson that previous recess.

Although Sister Margaret Ann’s rant undoubtedly scarred some 8-year-old psyches, it vividly impressed on me the intention behind Lent: Self-sacrifice is good in measured increments. Ol’ Maggie Ann would be proud, because the image stuck and is presently causing me to forgo two of the greatest joys in my life, In-N-Out Burger and Hamburger Habit. No meat for me until Easter Mass is over, the pastel-colored eggs are snatched up by young, sugar-addled cousins, and the ears are bitten off chocolate rabbits, creating chocolate hamsters.

And it’s no coincidence Lent follows the beer-and-hooters holiday that is Mardi Gras. Like feast before famine, the calendar provides one last binge before people regain control over themselves.

Self-control seems like a lofty ideal. If everybody practiced perfect self-control, people wouldn’t be worried so much about shedding those extra layers of insulation before swimsuit weather returns. People wouldn’t be puking in my bushes on the weekends. And students would all budget their time to allow for equal attention toward all their subjects, studying intently each and every alcohol-free night.

But people aren’t perfect. That’s what this is all about.

Beyond a mere rejection of things like red meat, cigarettes, alcohol, pot, swearing, porn, gossip, sweets, soda, fast food, hard drugs, shopping and sex with or without partners, self-denial also instills a certain sense of self-pride. And I can only imagine how good that burger will taste come April 20.

The true beauty of the Lenten resolution is – unlike the New Year’s resolution – no one expects anybody to keep it past Easter. More power to whomever wants to engage in a permanently ascetic lifestyle, but after Easter, I’m going to be throwing a tri-tip on the barbecue.

So don’t miss out on self-denial. For the next 40 days, join me at the salad bar. I’m doing it for religious reasons, but people with Christian convictions shouldn’t need much convincing to give something up for Lent. For non-Christians, do it for self-improvement or only to exercise your sense of self-control.

Thirty-nine days left and counting.

Drew Mackie is a Daily Nexus county news co-editor.