I almost had my poorest Lent performance ever last night (Ash Wednesday). We were having slightly-late pancakes, and one of the youth had brought Nutella (YUM!!), so I carefully covered my pancake with Nutella and squirty cream, rolled it up, and was about to tuck in when I remembered that chocolate is my Lent this year.
I’m not desperately good at Lent, but 19 hours would be a new all-time low for failure time. To be fair, when I break my Lent it’s usually because I forget, rather than a deliberate choice, but still…
One year I gave up tea and coffee, and expected to feel healthy and virtuous. Instead of which I felt like cr*p; major headache, shaking hands, general grumpiness. At the time I was quite disturbed by the extent of my caffeine addiction… these days I’m philosophical about the fact there are worse things I could be addicted to.
Lent itself is a strange beast. It’s a remembrance of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness after his baptism, and also the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert. It starts 40 days before Easter, on Ash Wednesday. Except it’s not really 40 days, ‘cos that only takes you to Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter). Turns out that Sundays aren’t in Lent (due to these being a standing day of celebration), which means the 40 days takes you up to Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Day). The Roman Catholics actually only manage 38 days, as they stop on Maundy Thursday.
My household is divided on whether, if you’ve given something up for Lent, you should be allowed it on Sundays. This is technically correct, but my other half feels this is not in keeping with the spirit of the thing – it’s no sacrifice to only give up something for 6 days (even if you do so for 6 weeks in a row). This is a valid point, but I might say that by the time you’ve not had something for 6 weeks, you’ve forgotten what it was like, so it’s not difficult anymore. Whereas if you have it every Sunday, it reminds you of just how nice it is, making of consistent difficulty throughout Lent.
The whole notion of sacrifice is counter-cultural these days, but I think that self-control and willpower are important characteristics – and that they’re like muscles: use it or lose it.
Anyway, I was pondering some things that one could give up, outside the obvious
- Meat and/or diary (this is what the Orthodox church do)
- The car
- Electric lighting (at home, at least)
- Electricity/Gas (probably a bit tricky)
- Washing (!)
- Hot water
The trendy thing in church circles these days is to take something up for Lent. I guess you are implicitly giving up some time in order to do this, but it is a more
positive approach. So common things to take up:
- Prayer / Bible reading
- Litter collection in the street
- Visiting someone old/ill/lonely (although you obviously wouldn’t just stop this after the end of Lent!)
- An aspect of housework
Churches seem to run lent courses quite often too – a 6 week study on something or other.
All in all I like Lent. It’s an opportunity to deny yourself something for a fixed (and fairly short) period of time, and generally be a bit more reflective about life.