Column: Why you shouldn’t give up on Lent
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 22:02
As many probably noticed yesterday, a number of people were walking around with a cross painted on their forehead in ash. This is a symbolic gesture in many Christian denominations known as “Ash Wednesday.” It’s an annual tradition in the Church that marks the beginning of Lent, a fast that is supposed to take place in the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday.
The theological significance of Lent is to commemorate Jesus Christ’s fast in the desert before being tempted by Satan. Christians fast in a bevy of different ways in order to feel closer to Jesus and his struggle.
The practical significance, for those of you already getting frustrated with all of this religious talk, is that Christians who participate in Lent pick something to give up for 40 days. The idea is to sacrifice something that they’ll notice and deprive themselves of some kind of luxury out of devotion to their religious beliefs.
I first discovered Lent as a child growing up in a Catholic school. Each year we had to take time to rediscover Lent and its concept in terms of the Catholic Church. I was never particularly savvy on this subject and I was terrified of perspiring and rubbing my ashes off in front of the priest by mistake. That thought monopolized a lot of my opinions on the fast. However, as I grew up and began to form my own views on religion, as all people do when they age into independent thought, I knew early on that of everything about the Church that I would be parting ways with once I left that school, Lent would not be one of them.
Having explained all of that, I ask all of the people reading this with a raised eyebrow toward organized religion or silly arbitrary traditions to stow their holier-than-thou attitude for a moment as we strip Lent down to its nuts and bolts.
People examine themselves, pick something that they feel too reliant on and challenge themselves to give it up for about 40 days and nights. Take away the theological and spiritual aspects if you must and just consider the self-examination and reliance aspects alone. Does this not seem like an annual practice that people of all religions, cultural backgrounds and philosophies can get into? The concept of taking a moment each year to examine yourself and your life’s needs versus your life’s wants is extremely powerful and therapeutic. It teaches us, in a culture of indulgence, to take a step back and remember what’s actually important in life and how personal luxuries should not appear on that list. It doesn’t have to be something astronomical, like the use of your car. It can be something as simple as giving up soda – as long as it’s something you’ll notice and feel.
I like giving something up each year for Lent for all the reasons listed, but also because it reminds me of a very important lesson. As much as people like to put a blanket boycott on all things religious or spiritual in any way, that can’t be adequately done. If Lent can teach the world anything, it should be that, much like life, there is no blanket good or bad, there are only good intentions and bad intentions. I won’t go out of my way to argue with anyone who says that organized religion is responsible for some things that, in the interest of not sparking a religious debate, I’ll simply refer to as “precious.” However, the well-intended motives of self-examination, charity and morality should not be thrown out with the bath water. Some non-secular things belong in the secular world. This year, I encourage those of all creeds to try and give up something for Lent; whether you do it for Christ or for yourself makes absolutely no difference to me.