Confession time: I truly disliked the period of Lent when I was younger. It felt tedious and restrictive to me, a headstrong child who did not enjoy being told what to do by anyone; a quality I retain to this day. What I knew about Lent was that we didn’t sing the Gloria for about a month (which was the best part of Church to me); I couldn’t have meat on Fridays (chicken?) and I had to go to church more (snooze-fest.) Additionally, I usually had to give up chocolate and sweets and was scolded more by my mother for not being restrained enough during the period. I didn’t fully understand it so I was a tad resentful.
As I got older, I began to take an active interest in my faith and actually pay attention and understand what it meant. I am still learning. I won’t lie, my turning point came a few years ago when a certain priest mentioned that Lent did not necessarily require giving up anything.
What? Why had no one told me this before?
It reminded me of the first time the Priest mentioned that verse about children respecting their parents and then added the next verse encouraging parents to not irritate their children lest they became discouraged. No one had ever mentioned that before! Amazing.
Colosssians 3: 20 and 21.
“Yes,” he continued. “Instead of quitting something, one can elect to take up something else!”
Yaay! You can imagine my excitement. I learnt that I could choose to take up something of my choice and focus on that. I was excited. I stopped giving up things, which had been really hard and unenjoyable for me, and tried to take up healthier habits. Looking back, I still gave up something; it was just framed differently and triggered a mindset change. I could say, I give up being rude and selfish, or I could declare that I was taking up being kinder and more careful with my words and sharing more with others who did not have as much as I do. The latter necessarily encompassed the first option, but to my mind, it was infinitely more desirable and do-able. Instead of giving up sweets, I was saving my money to help someone else. It completely changed Lent for me.
Nowadays, my Lenten period is often a combination of actively giving something up- swearing, impatience on the road, alcohol (welp)– and taking something else up- being kinder and softer with people, being less judgmental, giving to the poorer, donating my clothes; that sort of thing. It was and remains a work in progress. As I have gotten older, I have been able to redefine the limits of my faith and to make my own independent decisions about what I want and need to do to be right with the Lord. As with most things, the way that people will observe Lent, if at all, is dependent on personal preferences, family situations, tradition, religion and upbringing. Some people will fast and pray; others will fast on certain days or abstain from certain things on certain days or for the entire period. The Church is not overly prescriptive and merely sets guidelines, such as: no eating meat on Fridays and on Ash Wednesday; fish is permissible; fast, give alms and pray. But there is no specific requirement. It really is all up to you in a way.
I “enjoy” Lent because it is akin to the beginning of the week or month or year. A fresh start. It is a chance to break bad habits and consciously try again. The world we live in is incredibly distracting. It will distract you if you do not pay attention and you will wake up wondering how on earth you ended up in that situation when it would have been crystal clear to you if you were only a little less distracted. If we never acknowledge the bad in us and the need to rebuild where we are broken, we can never recover.Humility and acknowledging that one is human and weak and can fail, then workingto redress that. I have heard several people who aren’t even Catholic state that the Lenten principles are still applicable and they take the time to reflect and make some changes. I imagine if you fervently made New Year’s Resolutions and have fallen off the wagon, you can kick-start them again in month 3 without too much damage.
Lent is a time to rebuild the broken. Broken hearts, spirits, relationships, bodies. We break so that we can rebuild. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to be happy. I have been actively pursuing my joy and happiness and am using this time to consolidate that.
“It is not necessary to “give up something” but it would be a tragedy to do nothing. “
This year, for Lent, I have committed to various things. Some of them were spiritual, like dedicating more time to my relationship with God, which requires unplugging earlier and resting my body and meditating and praying. This also involves stressing less and letting go of anxiety and reading my Bible where I would normally be on the internet. Some of them were to make secular changes such as changing my gym and finding a new space to work out in . Another is to avoid getting angry on the road which will help me be calmer and more relaxed in my commutes and interactions. It’s just little things which I hope will help me establish a new routine which will extend even beyond Lent. Overall I hope they will contribute to my spiritual growth and holistic health.
What exactly is Lent?
Lent: etymology- English word Lenten- springtime- the time of lengthening days. The most important holiday in the Church is not actually Christmas; it is Easter. The Lenten period is a time of fasting, prayer, abstinence and patience as the great day approaches. It is worth noting that Catholics do not normally fast, but in this period, it is greatly encouraged, particularly on the Holy Days such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Throughout history, Christians have embraced prayer, fasting and giving alms as necessary components of repentance and forgiveness. Even in pre-Christian times, to show repentance, people would dress in sackcloth and sprinkle themselves with ashes to show humility and repentance. What could be deemed more humble than donning sackcloth and rolling around on the ground? Over the years, emphasis was placed on not making a show of humility and repentance, but actually being sorry and making amends, even without the external showing of it. Nowadays, the ash ritual is limited to Ash Wednesday where a cross is made on the forehead of believers, a reminder that you are ash and you will return to ash. The ashes are from the burnt offerings of the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday- another important Church holiday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the (technically) forty days of Lent. Lent is a period of humility and sacrifice; a solemn period where you get back to basics about faith.
The forty days of Lent are reminiscent of the forty days and forty nights Jesus spent being tempted and provoked by the Devil in the wilderness while he prayed and fasted after his baptism by John the Baptist and before he began his teachings. Jesus knew that he had a serious job ahead of him and needed to prepare himself. In the same way, Catholics prepare themselves for the joy that is coming. It’s a period of self-reflection and examination to allow you to emerge free of ugliness and ready to celebrate Easter renewed and joyous. I think that’s quite a beautiful concept.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30 : 5