I gotta be honest here, Lent is my least favorite season. The music is boring, moods are gloomy, and every Friday you have to think a little harder about dinner. I ask myself what is up with Lent? It is forty days long (minus the Sundays) and being raised Catholic it’s traditional to ask each other, “what are you giving up?” Once as a child I gave up gum. I can’t remember why I settled on gum in particular. Forty days is a pretty long time and I asked my mom if it might be ok just to have one piece if gum. She said, “no you gave that up for Lent.” I try to keep my promises, so I waited. Another thing we did as a family was avoid meat on Lenten Fridays. Since no one in my family knew how to eat veggie, we always had fish sticks. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a fish stick, but it’s basically a mozzarella stick filled with tasteless fish in the place of tasty cheese. They are disgusting and awful.
That was my primary experience of Lent as a child. Now that I’m an adult I have a slightly better idea of what Lent is for, but only slightly. The number forty corresponds to the forty days Jesus fasted and was tempted in the wilderness by Satan before he started preaching. Don’t ask me why this ends in Jesus dying and rising at Easter, jumping the three year gap. I guess the early church wanted to roll all the sadness into one season? By the end of Lent we aren’t fasting in the desert anymore, we are mourning Jesus. This mirrors the disciples who mourn their leader, not understanding He’s coming right back.
So a forty day sad-fest leads to a brief even sadder-fest then we get to celebrate- for one day. Lent seems hardly worth it. Maybe it’s because I sometimes have depression or maybe forty days feels too long for anything, but either way I can’t seem to see much use for Lent. I’ve heard the things it’s supposed to be about. We give up things in life and eat simpler meals to bring us closer to God. How exactly does this happen? I don’t know because I’ve never understood deprivation helping us get to God. Deprivation just makes me feel deprived. Fasting makes me feel hungry. Neither of these things helps me focus on God in any special way. But fasting is common in lots of religious traditions, so it must work for some people, right?
If Lent was created by the early church I can sort of understand the suffering to obtain purity mentality. The early church was big into martyrdom and torment; they thought it made one more holy. It was kinda their way of dealing with the persecution they faced. As a riff off that I get it. But there are lots of Christians today who don’t have to deal with that level of suffering, nor do we generally consider it good to suffer. So I suggest we repurpose the Lenten deprivation to make it more useful. Pick a fast (refrain from something), make it short, and then do it. Ask yourself the following questions:
1) what did I not have?
2) could I give this up again?
3) taking the money and time I have saved, what can I do to devote it towards helping others?
4) how did it feel going without the thing I gave up and what can I do to help those for whom this type of deprivation is not optional?
Instead of experiencing suffering for suffering’s sake, this type of fast could instead be a way for us all to be reminded that we should be working towards alleviating suffering in the world. My plan is to pick a fast and try this. I’ll let you know if it leads anywhere interesting.