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,
- 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.
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.