Thursday, February 23, 2012
Some Thoughts on Lent
Although I grew up in the church, I wasn't really aware of Lent until I lived with my friend Kathy in college. Kathy was the first Catholic I ever knew in a day-to-day way, and she taught me about the church calendar, including the concept of giving something up for forty days. For our first Lent of roommatehood, Kathy decided to give up Cheez-Its (she was addicted enough to make it a valid sacrifice). I still laugh at the memory of her cramming handfuls of Cheez-Its into her mouth on Mardi Gras night, while another friend stood by counting down the seconds to midnight, and I sat in the corner with our other best friend, Emily, raising a glass to Protestantism. (Years later, Emily joyfully became a Catholic, so now I'd be toasting by myself. :))
Later I learned that a lot of Protestants also participate in Lent, and from that point on, it became an uncomfortable issue for me. I didn't like the feeling of trying to earn God's approval, or setting myself up for failure and guilt, by giving something up. I didn't like giving something up, period. I felt like it compromised my belief in justification by faith alone. (Then I felt like that was a too-convenient excuse.) Most of all, it really bothered me when people (none of my Catholic friends) judged the difficulty of each others' sacrifices like it was some kind of holiness contest. I didn't want any part of that. But very slowly, I came to feel more positive about Lent. I now believe that, like many faith-related things, Lent is ultimately very personal. It's a chance to participate in Jesus' suffering in a teeny tiny way, to remind ourselves of our dependence on Him, to really prepare our hearts for Easter. What cemented it for me this year was a statement I recently heard at church: "There's no resurrection unless something dies first."
I've learned not to think about what everyone else is doing for Lent and how wimpy my efforts are in comparison. Some years I don't give up anything, but add a prayer time or study a book instead. I think about what needs to change in my life or in my walk with God, and then I do something that will help with that heart work - without making me totally resentful and miserable, which I think is counterproductive. (If I had to give up caffeine, or all beverages but water, or all sweets, you might as well shoot me on Ash Wednesday.) Lent has become a time to reflect on, and try to participate in, what God wants to do in me.
Despite these conclusions, I'll never have it all together (with this or with anything else). I spent all of Tuesday morning scrambling for some sort of Lenten idea. I decided it would be better to do nothing than to pick some random thing and do it with the wrong spirit. But finally, I settled on giving up chocolate. I've never given up a food item before, because anything that looks like a diet puts me in diet mode. But the fact is, I eat a LOT of chocolate. My afternoon snack always consists of a chocolate-based Fiber One bar, or a few Hershey Minis, or sometimes both. I pop Hershey Kisses here and there to quell sudden sugar cravings. Not to mention the chocolate cereals and chocolate ice cream and chocolate Jello Temptations. I had no idea how extensively chocolate had quietly worked its way into my daily life. Then I realized that sin often works the same way. BINGO. Obviously chocolate is not sin and I'll happily reunite with it on Easter, but I think the constant reminders of its absence will do me good. It'll also force me to find healthier 100-calorie-or-less afternoon snacks. (Suggestions?)
Just some of my thoughts. Take or leave. :) I realize I should have posted this yesterday, but it's been a crazy week.
(ETA: My friend Becca has another take on Lent that I thought was great and thought-provoking!)