Hey, Lent started yesterday. How do I know? The same way I get all my top news stories–my Facebook newsfeed.
This morning I opened my computer and nearly drowned in the sudden deluge of sacrificial-related status messages on Facebook (it’s still Ash Wednesday in the part of the world where people care, which marks the beginning of the 40 days before Easter when Catholics are supposed to abstain from something). From the cleverly crafted (“OK, six weeks without swearing. This should be pretty cussing amusing.”) to the hastily scrawled via Blackberry (“im giving up alcohol for lent… i know…UNLESS someone offers me some… i dont want to be rude :P”), secular citizens pledge their avoidance—other popular relinquishments include fast food, select meats, and chocolate.
Perhaps it is the pervasive influence of our culture’s obsession with dieting, or maybe some people just have a hard time encouraging themselves to kick unhealthy habits without an “official” reason. In any case, I’ve always found it interesting how so many non-Catholics jump on the Lent train and proceed with such optimistic gusto into 40 days of giving up one vice or another, though I’m unsure as to how many of them make it all the way to Easter. While I bet some do, I suspect that more often the exercise is much like that of the New Year’s Resolution: full throttle for the first few days, proud but irritated by one week, fiercely conflicted having momentarily slipped by a week and a half and given up/completely forgotten about it by two, possibly with a few pangs of guilt but more likely none at all since there was never a religious or compelling enough motive to begin with. We are human, after all.
Maybe it’s this arbitrariness and lack of gravity that most people, even Catholics, seem to apply to Lent that has often made me find the practice of Lenten abstinence to be show-offy and insincere. I just feel like if you’re gonna do it, it has to be with something that will be really, really hard for you to give up (ie, smoking, crack, Facebook), and you have to see it all the way through (a slip-up once or twice is forgiveable, but giving up chicken every Tuesday, what is that??). Too many people seem to use Lent as an excuse to give themselves a pat on the back for doing something that really wasn’t very hard to begin with. I know I haven’t even thought of giving up anything for Lent in over ten years, but that’s because a) I’m no longer the practicing Catholic I was raised as, b) I don’t really see the point in not indulging in something I enjoy (that probably isn’t good for me anyway if I’m giving it up) only to happily return to it after six weeks, and c) I’m not a fan of needing an Occasion (such as Lent) to do so. And by saying this, I’m definitely not dissing Lent at all—I think those who take it seriously deserve the utmost credit for it—I just think that in some cases, you need to do things for the right reasons. Lent would be one of them. And if you can’t handle that heat… well, you know how it goes.