Last Sunday, someone asked me what I was giving up for Lent and I honestly couldn’t answer. The truth is, until that moment, I really hadn’t given it a thought. It’s not that I don’t like Lent, we just have a complicated relationship.
The truth is, Lent never really worked for me. It’s supposed to a time of reflection and sacrifice that prepares us for Easter. All it’s ever done is make me ill because I couldn’t have/do whatever it was I decided to give up. I suppose it’s a terrible personality flaw, but whenever I am forced into sacrificing something, I focus on the lack of that thing and not how it’s bringing me closer to God. Because of that, all Lent has ever prepared me for was extreme overindulgence in whatever I’d given up for the previous month and a half.
It’s not just sucking at self-denial, either. Reflection, meditation. contemplation, prayer and all that other stuff Christians are supposed to engage in during Lent have a taste of the mystical about them. And, I want to like the mystical side of Christianity so much. But I’ve always struggled with that sort thing. While I’m sure there are all sorts of deep, psychological reasons for that (a mental health professional could build an awesome reputation on my quirks alone), there are a couple that I can definitely speak to. First, when I was a youngster, my family was deeply involved in a a religious group that wasn’t exactly what you’d call “legitimate”. As a result, I came to believe all that mystical stuff was nothing but hokum. Second, for as long as I can remember, I have had a deep need to understand how things work. If I can’t figure something out, I don’t have much use for it. As I’m sure you know, there’s really no figuring out how mysticism works. That’s kind of what makes it…, mystical.
In years past, I’ve done the self-denial thing for Lent by giving up soda or sugar or some other type of food. One year, I tried to give being a smart-ass, but denying an integral part of your personality is just setting yourself up for failure; which I did. If I remember correctly, I made it about two weeks before posting a snarky comment on social media. As for prayer and the rest of it? Well, I tried, but I never really got into it. Finally, I decided to give up Lent because it wasn’t doing much for me. I still do church and I’ll admit that my sense of the sacred is heightened during the period, but that’s as much because people won’t shut up about it as any spiritual practice on my part. This year, like the previous two, I’m not giving up shit.
Is that harsh? Maybe, but at least it’s honest. For too many years, I’ve done things because they’re a social convention, an expectation, the done thing. A couple of years ago, I decided to opt out of that. This year, I finally figured out why.