Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when Christians are encouraged to reflect upon Christ’s 40-day fast in the desert and prepare for his death and resurrection during Holy Week through sacrifice, almsgiving, and prayer. Even if you aren’t a Christian, you’re likely familiar with the concept. When we were kids, “What are you giving up for Lent?” was as common a question at this time of year as, “Are you buying or packing?”
Despite the solemn and deeply spiritual nature of Lent, I have to admit, I often use Lent for my own selfish purposes—a convenient vehicle for dropping a few pounds or getting a jumpstart on a manuscript with promises of daily writing and the shunning of such time sucks as TV and Facebook. Though the actions fit the basic qualifications of Lenten sacrifices, the spirit behind them wasn’t exactly deep or prayerful.
I’m not going to fool you into thinking that I’ve had some great epiphany this year that has led me to do a daily Bible study or fast on only bread and water for the entire 40 days, but I have given a bit more thought to the season of Lent and how I might mark it in a more meaningful way. And while my choices in part do have something of a self-serving nature, I think they will ultimately help make me a better person and strengthen me spiritually.
So what did I decide to “give up?”
First, let me start with two things I’ve decided to add. First, I plan to begin each day with the practice of yoga and prayerful meditation. This will help bring my mind, body, and spirit into alignment, which will ultimately help me set my daily priorities, cast off my daily worries, and begin each day refreshed and renewed.
Second, I’ve decided to give more selflessly of my time. Specifically, I plan to volunteer both at my home parish and at the kids’ school parish at their weekly fish fries. It’s something I’ve often considered but vetoed because “we’re just too busy.” But in reality, there’s no reason I can’t give a few hours on a Friday. The kids have no activities, we have no place else we need to be. And so I’ll wait tables or wash dishes or do whatever they need, supporting their efforts and being more selfless with my most precious gift—time.
Finally, I am, indeed, giving something up. Sugar. This is as enormous a fast as I can imagine for myself, as I am a sugar junkie. I crave it constantly. I eat it for breakfast in my yogurt and granola parfaits, I drink it between meals in my lattes and fruit juice spritzers, I munch it for my evening dessert and my between-meal snacks. No more. I plan to detox my body of this drug to make room for more healthful choices in order to preserve my second most precious gift—my health.
While I know this will be an incredible challenge for me, I’m not focusing so much on what I’m giving up as what I’ll be gaining this Lent. Health. Balance. Spiritual well-being.
So, do you observe Lent? If so, how do you plan to mark this solemn season?