It is always slightly peculiar when anyone asks me, “What are you giving up for Lent?”
I’ve been religious at various points in my life in the truest sense of the word, but never that religious. In small-town Newfoundland, Lent was always perceived as a Catholic tradition and as a good protestant boy, I protested it by simply ignoring it. It’s never been something that I’ve understood well if at all from either an historical or a practical perspective.
There have been Easter seasons that I’ve attempted to do this, though none so striking that I actual remember which of my vices I denied myself of. I seem to recall giving up soda or pop or Coke (my attempt to be geographically sensitive here) though never having been a connoisseur of these sugary tonics this denial came ripe with built-in success. I understand that this can be a struggle for some people, who are as hopelessly addicted to the stuff as I am to the java. Surely at some point during my pious college years there were other things: fast-food is coming to mind but has only slightly less built-in success than soda (and then, only because of my then college-student status).
And here I am again happily adrift through another lenten season with no plan of organized self-denial. It’s not that I don’t see the value. The value is incredible. Self-denial is a discipline practiced by maybe 0.00000343% of the world’s population (that number MAY be inaccuate – i.e. a complete fabrication). Lent has the potential to be an amazing expression of incredible faith and trust.
It also has the potential to be self-aggrandizing, ego-buildling wish-wash.
Let’s be honest with one another: most of the people that we know that practice Lent do it not for any religious observance or because of their desire to fast alongside Jesus in the desert for 40 days in preparation for ministry. No, instead it’s to see if we can actually survive the withdrawal of caffeine or the dangerously low levels of blood sugar that we’re bound to experience. And the self-aggrandizing bit: that’s about proving to yourself and others that you, against all odds, can actually drive PAST Starbucks on the way to and maybe from work. It’s building up the ego. It’s blatant self-promotion in the face of subtle self-denial.
Perhaps our lives should be about self-denial every day. Perhaps there is enough to go around if we’re reasonable and generous. Just maybe we can help somebody get back on their feet and we can possibly be satisfied with a 32″ LCD instead of a 42″.
I realize this may not be your thing.
Given that Lent ought to be about preparing for something new – reminiscent of Jesus’ preparing for three years of ministry – perhaps we can revisit this season with that spirit. Jesus didn’t go to the desert to avoid drive-thrus and biggie sized fries. He prepared to present the greatest “message” of all time to a people that were beaten down by oppressors.
It’s an incredibly different environment from what WE live in.
How will you take the next few days (it doesn’t need to be 40 – you won’t lose credit) to prepare yourself for a new part of life? Maybe it’s time to think about what the next step is. Maybe the old is done.
I’ve got a low-grade aversion to people – people in small doses are fine but in general they find ways to annoy or irritate me. If Lent is about denial, then why not deny ourselves the easy way out – take the long hard road through the desert instead of substituting iced tea (or sweet tea) for soda.
I want to face my fears and my aversions instead whim-ping out. I want to deny myself the option of using the self check out at the grocery store and instead place myself squarely in the vulnerable position of having a conversation with an unknown human. I want to deny myself the opportunity to stay silent and speak up and ACT up when people are being treated with injustice. I want to deny myself the opportunity to passively-aggressively share my views and engage in actual dialogue.
Lent this year is much different. It’s not denying myself of something. It’s denying myself of self.