Lent: Not Just For Catholics, Not Only About Saying Sorry

Countdown calendar

So today, on St. Patrick’s Day – a day of parades, parties, and green beer in North America – I’ve decided to write about Lent.

I’m not Catholic, or even especially religious. Yet Lent is a ritual I practice regularly.

For those even less religious than I, Lent is the 40-day period preceding Easter and running roughshod right over St. Paddy’s Day during which, among other things, it’s customary for people to temporarily give up on indulgent habits.

It’s a period of penitence, self-denial, and reflection corresponding with the 40 days Jesus Christ spent alone in the desert prior to the start of his ministry, fasting and enduring temptation from the Devil.

The purpose of Lent is to prepare Christians to rejoice at the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.

As I mentioned above, I’m not especially religious.

And yet, in recent years, for Lent I’ve given up,

  • Bagels
  • Chocolate
  • All desserts
  • Needless complaining

And this year, movies and Netflix.

The pattern of all the things I’ve given up is they’re a) things I enjoy a lot, b) things I have a strong tendency to over-consume/overindulge in, to my detriment, and c) things that were genuinely challenging to give up for 40 days.

Especially the desserts. Giving up complaining was tough as well, and is probably one I actually failed at given the insidious nature of needless griping, particularly when it occurs in one’s head, which I didn’t specifically resolve to curtail, but should have.

Thinking about dessert

But the desserts! Oh man, after just two days without, I was ready to call the whole thing off.

My desire for something sweet CONSUMED MY THOUGHTS, pun intended. The first two weeks were just awful, and even the first part week three wasn’t great. That year, I think I came the closest I ever have to understanding how it feels to try to kick a serious addiction.

It was no easier giving up bagels. I used to LOVE me some bagels, to the point of eating one every day at lunch. (Do you know how many calories are in a bagel??)

Note my use of the words “used to”.

All structures are impermanent

My friends often ask me why I participate in Lent when I’m not Catholic, not especially religious, and it feels terrible every time.

Because it feels terrible is the primary reason.

I’m a big fan of personal challenges in general, of which extended periods of self-denial are highly effective.  They help make me more aware of myself and why I do some of the things I do, as well as reminding me how tenuous everything around me that I love really is.

In the book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Vancouver-based spirituality author, Eckhart Tolle, writes,

Once you realize and accept that all structures (forms) are unstable, even the seemingly solid material ones, peace arises within you.  This is because the recognition of the impermanence of all forms awakens you to the dimension of the formless within yourself, that which is beyond death. (p.81)

In short, I consider Lent to be a form of “survival-without” training.

As well, the things I give up for Lent often come to be replaced with better things, or otherwise produce positive results. (Forty days is a convenient time period in which to institute better habits: it’s demanding, but not soul-destroying.)

I actually have no idea how many calories a bagel has, but I do know I lost six pounds from giving them up.  I lost my ravenous desire for them as well; nowadays when I have a bagel, which isn’t nearly as often anymore, I only eat half and save the rest for another day.

Giving up chocolate and desserts gave my chronic gum inflammation a chance to finally subside. It also helped me become more appreciative of my desserts, and thus more selective.  Generally, I only have dessert on weekends now, and make more distinguished choices instead of just chowing down on anything containing sucrose that happens to be nearby.

Giving up needless complaining (or at least attempting to) has made me aware of just how much I do complain, and continually inspires me to try harder at putting the oxygen I suck up to more productive uses.

And this time, I’ve given up movies and Netflix for the express purpose of increasing my reading and writing – two practices I doubt I’d ever quit for Lent no matter how much I love them.  For the more time I make for both of them, rather than being a detriment, will only make me a better person.

~

Have you ever participated in Lent?  If yes, what did you give up, and how was it?  If not, what’s one thing you could curtail to your betterment if you chose to?  Let me know in the comments.

(Image source #1 and #2)

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10 thoughts on “Lent: Not Just For Catholics, Not Only About Saying Sorry

  1. Being the heathen that I am, I’m disinclined toward participating in rituals tied to religion (though I’ll take the days off from work) and am not at all opposed to consuming frightening quantities of Christmas cookies. Nothing to do with lent, but I was a vegan for six months a long time ago. I felt great but was pretty lonely.

    The only thing I really should give up is baked goods. I’ve gathered 50% of the will to it on several occasions, but people always foist them upon me, and there is a fair amount of social pressure to take them. You compliment the chef and then next time, the chef Though Of You when making the item again. You kind of have to take a piece.

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    • I have no problem taking part in religious rituals so long as I can adapt them to my needs, although I appreciate that those who are strongly religious may object to this.

      It is difficult to turn down treats made specially for you. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily) for me, no one ever makes things specially for me. No one but my mom, and she takes requests.

      If you ever get it in your head to go vegan again, you might have to switch coasts to not be lonely. Here in Vancouver (much like your Portland and San Fran and other such places) you could spit and it would land on a vegan. I’m vegetarian myself, but that actually happened before I moved out here.

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  2. I’m not particularly religious (obvious because I didn’t know it was Lent) 😉 There’s no way I could give up chocolate, but I’m willing to give up washing the dishes and vacuuming. Does that count? 😀

    I absolutely love that Eckhart Tolle quote. I’m heading off to buy ‘Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose’ now 😉

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    • I bet you really could give up chocolate if you reeeally had to; it’s amazing what people can do under dire circumstances. Rather than you giving up dishes and vacuuming, a better Lenten resolution might be to convince the other people in your house to give up letting you do all the chores for them, eh? Eh? 😉

      I definitely recommend A New Earth. It’s not a super light read, but it really makes you think. I love it.

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  3. My mother gave up sugar in her tea for Lent once, and hasn’t touched sugar since.And you’re right Janna, you discover that some ‘essential’ items aren’t so important after all. I decided to dispense with a TV some years ago and now wonder what I ever watched on one, or had the time to.

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    • So much of what we do are just habits we never got around to replacing with something else. That’s why I like to periodically deprive myself of things; it helps me figure out what’s really important to me.

      I gave up TV many years ago as well, but recently started getting into Netflix and movies from iTunes as another way to help inspire my writing. I only ever watched on the weekends, so I wasn’t a crazy binge-watcher anyway. Giving it up wasn’t all that hard, and I’ve already read 1.5 books 13 days in.

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