Hey, everybody! Let’s give it up for…
Yes, this season of traditional Christendom will be upon us soon. March 9th is the first day this year, often called Ash Wednesday. Mormons generally don’t follow any kind of liturgical calendar, but it’s something valued I brought with me from my Protestant heritage. It’s the 40 day period before Easter honoring the 40 days of Christ’s fasting and wandering in the wilderness before his ministry. It’s typically associated with fasting, denial and avoiding temptation.
People choose something specific to refrain from/work on/attend to during Lent. One might, for example, give up chocolate or ice cream or TV or some other pleasantry as a sustained but mini-version of Christ’s fasting. Mormons, of course, are quite familiar with the concept of fasting, although ours is usually a “whole hog, cold turkey” abstaining from food for fast Sunday or for other spiritual concerns. (Should one really use edible livestock and poultry in a definition of fasting?)
Ice cream has little appeal to me so giving it up wouldn’t teach me much. Chocolate, on the other hand, is much beloved. Giving that up one year for Lent was wrenching. But denial for denial’s sake is not the point of Lent.
I like to think of Lent as a practice, a discipline involving something specific that can bring me closer to Christ. To that end I gave up eBay for Lent one year.
eBay was fairly new and I soothed myself through a difficult transition to a new home by buying and selling stuff. Ah, the thrill of a last moment snatch just before the seconds expire! The prestige of being one of few owners of a Steiff (stuffed animal spider) from the 1950’s still with the button in it The satisfaction of earning a couple extra bucks offloading some of the items whose appeal had waned!
It’s not that these were bad things or that I was corrupting my family’s finances or relationships. eBay was NOT the devil in disguise. But I sensed myself starting to be drawn to it in a way that seemed unhealthy. I didn’t want that anymore. Lent provided me a good break. So good a break, in fact, that I clicked there only a couple times in the past few years. I’m a better person for it.
A couple years ago I gave up envy for Lent. What a rich experience that was! When I started to think about what envy meant for me – usually just a downturn in my own sense of self when confronted with the success of someone else – I found that it was pervasive in every aspect of my life. I’m not talking about big, criminal envy but the subtler version that doesn’t allow you to celebrate with the other person as fully as you like and doesn’t let you appreciate all the treasures (spiritual or temporal) you already possess. I can’t say I’ve totally rooted out envy through that Lenten exercise, but I’m more aware of it and more likely to let it go and praise God for what I have. I may just take up the process again this year. I haven’t decided yet.
When my son was on his mission he wrote home in his weekly email that he planned to give up doubt for Lent. I started clicking away immediately begging him to rethink! Doubt (at least my definition of it and I assumed his) is one the richest sources of strength for my faith. It’s when I wrestle with the tough questions, challenge my presumed notions, engage in deep conversation with God about troubling things (my definition of doubt) that my spiritual life develops its muscles. I don’t recall what he ended up doing. Maybe he defined doubt as the cynical, prove-it-to-me, hard-heartedness that many assume doubt is. If so, then good for him to give up.
So, whether you give something up or take a discipline on, who’s with me for a good, robust and spiritual Lent this year?
Have you ever participated in the this tradition – whether at this time of year or anytime? What was that like?
If you want to “do” Lent, any thoughts on what you might like to focus on?
What do you think the differences might be between a 24 hour fast and a sustained break from something specific?