Giving up on giving up?

At an Ash Wednesday potluck, a 7th grader asked me: “So, what are you giving up for Lent?”

It took me by surprise: I haven’t thought much about making this a “holy lent” myself yet. I gave her a few excuses: it’s been busy, so close to Christmas this year, I haven’t had time to think about it.

And, I’ve never been much of a giver-upper for Lent. It wasn’t part of my family religious practice growing up. I’ve known folks who do an amazing job of making it a spiritual practice. (My junior-year roommate, Yvonne, was an incredible giver-upper, and did it with spirit-filled gusto. It was a gift to live with her through a Lent.) But the truth is I feel like I’ve so much more often seen examples of people using Lenten discipline as an excuse for something else–not eating something they shouldn’t eat anyway, a way to lose weight, a way to save money–and this raises up my cynical inner-Calvinist, already a bit suspicious of a practice. Ironically, I did decide to so some serious diet changing, but that was completely unrelated to Lent: it has more to do with my tight dress pants. The things I would like to give up this year aren’t particularly tangible: are things control; anxiety; worry. I know that the true nature of giving something up is about the symbolism, the great tangible reminder that God is there even when your chocolate bar is not. But I can’t quite make this work for me right now.

I prefer adding something for Lent, but I usually fail miserably at this. (Senior year of college–I was going to get up to join the Benedictine Oblates on campus for prayers every morning. At 6:00am. That didn’t work out so well.)

And the truth is, this year, I am in a place where what I need is a whole big dollop of grace. With a cherry on top. And maybe a few sprinkles, too. The idea of initiating something that I might fail at is really tough for me.

But I am still trying to sort this out: if Lent is a time of preparation, and examination, what should I be doing?

8 Responses to “Giving up on giving up?”

  1. ppb Says:

    preparing and examining?
    I’m serious. Maybe take some time every day to just think-examine?

    I don’t always do it, but this year I gave something up for Lent. It’s been a useful thing for me to do so far–but not an easy one.

  2. susan Says:

    I’m choosing joy this Lent. I have an image of being one of the children playing with Jesus, sitting on his lap. And, I also have a feeling choosing joy will look different each day.

    It sounds like a Lenten season of Sabbath rest may be in good order for you?

  3. Susie/NuevaCantora Says:

    In the “invitation to a holy Lent” in the Episcopal traditon, self-examination is listed *before* fasting – so, I’m with ppb. I think some daily reflection on grace sounds perfectly lovely.

  4. Beth Kucera Says:

    Lent is certainly a time for study, self reflection, prayer, fasting and works of love. I vote #5!!!

  5. Erica Says:

    Thanks for these comments…some helpful thoughts.

    Here’s what I’m thinking right now: I’m giving up 40 minutes a day…or maybe I’m adding 40 minutes a day…it depends on how you look at it. I don’t know exactly what it will look like, but I’m going to create a little time and space and sabbath in each of those little bits of 40.

  6. Elizabeth Says:

    I vote for Susan’s answer… joy is a great thing.

  7. ms rev or not Says:

    the church dork in me gets off on the whole forty days/forty minutes deal. well played.

  8. rivkah Says:

    I’m a firm believer that if giving something up or taking something on becomes a distraction, it is no longer a discipline. Some years I try to do one or the other, but if it becomes too much and all I do is worry that I will fail or it’s keeping me from deepening my spiritual life, then I just take a deep breath, let it go and fall back on prayer.
    On the other hand, here is an idea. Start some seeds indoors. It usually takes them about 6 weeks to be ready for transplanting outside and also usually (this year being an exception) the end of Lent is about the right time for planting in most parts of the country. So, you could start a prayer garden with flowers, a place you can enjoy God’s beauty in the curve of a petal or the wing of a visiting butterfly. Or you could start seeds for a mission garden with veggies to help decrease your dependency on commercial produce and to give some of the extras to a local food bank. Pray for your seeds each day. Ask God to help them grow and live into their purpose. If you’re like me, you also ask God to protect them from your black thumb. :)