What I’m (Not) Giving Up For Lent (Guest Post)
To be honest, I have always had something of an aversion to Lent. I generally dread this time of year: February drawing to a close, Lent is in full steam, and all my holy friends are giving things up for God. Part of me doesn’t see the connection between not eating chocolate and knowing God more, while another part of me just isn’t enthused about the prospect of giving up things I really like for 40 long days. And of course, there’s also the guilt I feel for my apparent deficiency in holiness. So, the whole thing is a mess.
My freshman year of college, a friend and I decided to give up ketchup for Lent. The choice of this sacrifice should speak more to our love of ketchup than any character flaws it might imply. I embarked on our fast in good faith, but somewhere between the bookends of Ash Wendesday and Easter, I quit. (My friend, I should tell you, remained faithful.) It wasn’t that I couldn’t keep my roving hands from the ketchup bottle; I just didn’t see how abstaining from my favorite condiment in the cafeteria helped me join Christ in the wilderness or embrace my mortality. Discouraged and confused, I figured this was the end of my Lenten adventures.
Obviously, I was missing the point, which is why I am thankful that this year–despite my woeful ignorance and unworthiness–I believe God has given me an invitation to come to understand a little better the spirit behind the season of Lent. A few weeks ago I was having tea (which, for me, means mostly milk and honey) with my friend Emily, and telling her in long, rambling sentences how I feel like I’m supposed to be living my life more intentionally, more thoughtfully, more in alignment with all that I believe to be true and hold to be valuable. After listening to me pour out my heart, she suggested I use the time of Lent to focus on ways to meaningfully shape and structure my time. Although I wasn’t enthused to have my old nemesis, Lent, brought back into the picture, Emily has never given me bad advice, and I spent the following weeks considering her suggestion.
It began to dawn on me that perhaps Lent is not so much a time of self-denial, but of self-giving…of giving oneself diligently to discipline and intentionality and, ultimately, to God and His purpose for us. Lauren Winner writes in her new book Still that busyness is the new sloth. At first this sounds counterintuitive, but think of the laziness with which we allow life’s perpetual motion to pull us mindlessly along. The dictionary defines sloth as a “habitual disinclination to exertion,” and it is slothfulness that I practice when I refuse to expend the energy neccesary to create space in my life for the things that matter. As Winner says, “I am too lazy to do what’s important, or hard, so I stay busy with everything else” (Still, 105). I give myself to the disctractions and hecticness of each day because it does not entail the vast effort required to give myself to God, to Scripture, to personal growth, to loving people. In the end, my busyness is only a curtain to hide my unwillingness to expend myself in a disciplined and meaningful way.
All these thoughts swirled in my head on Ash Wednesday last week. I went to church. I kneeled and confessed my sins, and as the priest of my Anglican congregation crossed my forehead with the ashes to which I’m destined to return, I reflected on my own mortality, and the purpose for which I have been made: to give myself to God and others. Perhaps that is Lent: a space, an opportunity, a merciful reminder found in the Church calendar, not of what we must deny, but of all that we are called to give.
Carolyn Thomas graduated from Biola University with a B.A. degree in Sociology. She currently lives with her husband in Whittier, CA and works full-time as a nanny for three amazing kids. She spends all her spare time reading, and is a proud member of Dumbledore’s Army.