A longtime reader noted that many years ago, I wrote about giving up something for Lent. He expressed interest in the practice, and asked what I’m giving up this time around.
To be honest, I haven’t given up anything specific for Lent for a very long time. I’m cognizant of the season, and I’m still a practicing Christian, but I have two minds about giving up something for Lent. It serves as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, yes. But the tradition of using up everything you’re giving up on the Tuesday before has become rather corrupted, especially in St. Louis. Basically it’s turned into an excuse for people who have no interest in observing Lent to throw a really wild, sometimes destructive, four-day party. That, to me, is unfortunate.
I guess the other reason I don’t give up anything specific for Lent is because I gave up something for all time. My last drink was either in June 2002 or October 2002. We’re talking 11-plus years either way so it really doesn’t matter anymore. Alcoholism runs in my family, and in 2002 I was dating someone who drank way too much, way too often, and gave the excuse that she needed to drink to relieve her stress. I drank lightly–a couple of drinks per month, typically–but certainly could have gone a lot further than that.
When that relationship ended, I asked myself what I wanted. Sometime that summer, I decided I wanted a spouse who didn’t drink, and, it follows that it wouldn’t be right to want that and not be that myself. So I stopped.
Trust me, some days are easier than others. On Monday, I wouldn’t have stopped at a single drink. So it was better not to start at all.
I think giving something up is a good practice. It instills discipline, something that we as a society lack all too often. We want what we want, exactly how we want it, and we want it right now. That’s problematic. Sometimes doing without isn’t a choice we get to make, and it’s easier to make do with less if we’re used to giving something up from time to time. And when the sales pitch comes for something that would be nice to have but the timing isn’t quite right, I can say no, or not now, much more easily.
And a funny thing happens sometimes. Next month, when I have money to spend again, frequently I don’t even remember what that thing was that I wanted. So there’s considerable benefit to not giving in to my every urge.
So, am I doing it wrong if I don’t give something else up at Lent on top of the alcohol? That’s legalism.
Is everyone else doing it wrong if they only give something up for six weeks? That’s legalism too.
Maybe when my boys are a little bit older, we’ll all pick something to give up for six weeks for Lent. Right now they’re both a bit young for that, especially my youngest.