Are You Giving Up Something for Lent?

Today is Ash Wednesday. If you’re a “planning ahead” type of Christian, you may have over-indulged yesterday on whatever delicacy or vice you seek to avoid until Easter. Or maybe you don’t observe Lent that way and wonder what all this “giving up something” is about. Personally, I have always marveled at this relationship between behaviors and beliefs. Would giving up potato chips for 40 days make me a better Christian?

When I was a kid, I noticed that all my little friends carefully considered what treat they planned to give up for Lent. As the lone (it seemed) Presbyterian in a Catholic neighborhood, the concept was foreign to me. I mean, Lent was a thing, of course, but no Sunday school teacher ever implied we should observe it by giving up anything.

My friends, however, were deadly serious about it – they solemnly selected a favorite thing (usually sweets) and then abstained. Friday school lunches were meatless and desserts went un-touched. The collective willpower was impressive.

Despite the prevalence of Lenten sacrifice throughout my childhood, I didn’t get the reason for it until I was an adult. The behavior alone was significant enough to make an impression on me, so I never wondered about the beliefs behind it. Now, anyone can Google it: Lent is associated with penance and abstinence to reflect the 40 days and nights that Jesus fasted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2).

I don’t know how much my young friends really understood about Lent while they fastidiously avoided temptation for 40 days. So much of their religious behavior perplexed me: all the kneeling and sitting in church, making the sign of the cross, and most of all their descriptions of how priests would assign them repetitions of the “Hail Mary” during Confession.

Does participation in rituals and strict observation of rules make faith more meaningful? Does behavior equal belief?

capybara-02

Fun Fact: To satisfy Venezuelans’ appetite for capybara meat during Lent, the Catholic Church classified this oversized rodent as a fish.

Not always. I know Catholics whose children are being schooled in all the rituals my childhood friends observed, but the parents definitely don’t believe in all the values of the Catholic Church. A friend of mine who’s an Orthodox Jew (observes Shabbat, keeps a kosher home, threw a huge party for his son’s bar mitzvah) told me matter-of-factly that he considers himself an atheist.

And yet…traditional behaviors can be comforting. They connect us to others in our faith community and if performed thoughtfully, can remind us of the beliefs behind them.

I am partial to Lenten behaviors that are additive. Any daily activity – like prayer or Bible study or reading a devotional – is a perfectly acceptable way to practice Lenten self-discipline. But after missing out on all that “giving up something” as a kid, I admit that I feel drawn to consider the practice now.

That’s why I had a spectacularly huge bowl of potato chips last night. It was divine. After getting the most out of my own personal Fat Tuesday, I am now ready for Lent.

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4 thoughts on “Are You Giving Up Something for Lent?

  1. Karen

    A thought-provoking post, Laura. I am a lackluster Lutheran who rarely attends church, yet I never miss Ash Wednesday and gladly embrace the traditional fast. I don’t really know why Lent touches me in a way that other holy days and seasons do not. Perhaps it is the reminder that this physical life is ephemeral, or maybe it’s a craving for getting back to what is essential, or it might be a lingering guilt over the blessings this life has bestowed on me while others suffer. I can’t really put my finger on it, but whatever it is, Lent pulls me in and has its way with me every year.

    Reply
    1. lmctaggart2013 Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Karen. Maybe Lent has that special feel to it because it is one religious observance that is no way commercialized, and it tends to be observed in solitary ways. In any case, I hope you enjoyed your services yesterday.

      Reply
  2. Nancy Loderick

    Hi Laura,

    It’s funny you should mention potato chips. I was planning on giving those up for Lent, except that kind of didn’t happen on Ash Wednesday. Oh well, today is another day to try.

    Nancy

    Reply

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