In my youth and today, the hardest part about Lent is finding a practice and sticking with it. Usually, Lent sneaks up on me (this year it is no different). As a result, I scramble for a practice to embark on during the forty days of Lent. And usually, it’s not as heart-felt a practice as I’d like it to be.
Many traditions will tell you to give up something for Lent. Chocolate, alcohol, and caffeine are typical suggestions. My father always advised me to take something on instead. Give sacrificially to charity, pray the Rosary every day, or volunteer somewhere new.
Whether you’re a person that gives up something or takes on something for Lent, the purpose is the same: find a part of your life in which you’re not living to the fullest and do something about it.
We “give something up” during Lent because, too frequently, our practices of consumption lead us to become desensitized to the conditions that leave us with so much and others with too little. We “take something on” to remind us of the ways in which our lives fall short–of true relationship, of forgiveness, of being our best selves.
“Our better self”, though, is different for everyone.
This piece was brought to my attention by a dear friend the other day. The simple dichotomy of “give something up” or “take something on”, though helpful in many situations, can be misused if applied without reflection or context. For those of us whose bodies bear the wounds of a culture at war (with ideals of beauty, of health… at war with notions of rightness, wrongness, and guilt), the unexamined call to “give something up” can be an invitation to inflict harm on ones’ self in the name of good. And unless you “take something on” that truly cultivates growth, you may find yourself feeling really good for doing things that, in the end, help no one (not even you).
So give up chocolate, alcohol, or caffeine by all means. Take on extra volunteer shifts. Just be sure that’s what you really need–not just what you think you ought to need.
I don’t know about you, but I’m in need of a lot of things. So many growing edges on me, truly. This Lent, I’m pledging to do more reflection–serious reflection. Because in reality, I’m not sure what it is I need. Hopefully you’ll see some of that reflection here, but just as often, you might not. I’ll be doing more reading scripture, more writing in my journal, more attention spent to cultivating a better, healthier me. I’ll keep a list, I promise.
Who knows? By Easter I may have discovered a practice that can last me beyond Lent.