As an unaffiliated (or non-denominational, if you wish) Christian, I’ve never observed Lent. Many of my friends do, however, and in past years, I’ve simply nodded to show my attentiveness as they described what they intended to abstain from during the countdown to Easter. Chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, bread, and other such foods were the usual victims, but sometimes activities or perceived bad habits made the hit list: the snooze alarm, unnecessary spending, smoking, watching television, etc. All very interesting, but never enough to lure me into the observance of it.
Easter, on the other hand, has always been one of my favorite holidays. There are spiritual reasons, which I won’t go into, but there are also mental and physical components to this holiday for me, probably because it’s so handily observed in Spring, when my mind and body are beyond ready to be rid of the winter doldrums. Whatever the reason, I always feel more energized and alive around this time of year.
If you’ve read here for any length of time, you know that I like to shake things up now and then, to toss something new into the mix. Some things “take”, some things don’t. The joy is in the trying. And that’s why I’ve decided to observe Lent this year, for the first time in my life.
As I understand it there are three general areas of focus in Lent: prayer, sacrifice, and charity/almsgiving. I’ve got the prayer/meditation thing covered, which leaves abstinence and charity.
You’re probably on the edge of your seats now, wondering just what I plan to give up, aren’t you? Well, if you guessed anything food-related, guess again! Now that I’ve cleaned up my daily diet, there’s not much to sacrifice without giving up a nutritional component. Not a road I care to travel.
No, I’ve decided to go another route. When I think about some of my daily practices and habits, along with the ways I want to grow, I’ve chosen three Lenten-ish sacrifices (I chose three because it’s such a big deal number in Christianity):
1) Reading fiction – I don’t consider any reading to be time wasted, but I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time with my nose buried in a cozy mystery or silly romance novel. I have a shelf full of unread non-fiction books, all obtained with the purpose of enriching my mind and/or spirit. For the next six weeks or so, I’ll direct all of reading time to these books and the stack of unread magazines that have accumulated since the beginning of the year. In addition to a recharged inner self, I’ll also accomplish a bit of decluttering. A two-fer sacrifice, if you will.
2) Free Cell – I have a healthy practice of using a few minutes of Free Cell play as a reward for getting some task accomplished. Finished my workout? Cool down with a few games of Free Cell. Complete a somewhat difficult item on my to-do list? Two games! Or I’ll use it as a distraction from nighttime snacking urges. No problem there, and much healthier than large amounts of popcorn or chocolate. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that I’ll head over to Free Cell when I want to avoid doing something difficult. I recognize it now as a form of fear, a way of hiding from risk, and it’s NOT healthy. Taking away Free Cell as an option will give me more time to spend on more enriching pursuits. More on that in a minute.
3) 40 Personal Items & 40 Books – I’ve been blessed to live a life of abundance, and I’m grateful for that. I’m also embarrassed about the amount of stuff I have. While I’ve been made progress in ridding myself of some of it, I still have things I don’t use, need, or love. In addition, my bookshelves are spilling over again, and many of those books will never be opened again. I’ve set up two boxes in my office and for the next six(ish) weeks, I’ll be filling them with 40 unused items from my house and 40 books from my shelves. The purpose of this sacrifice is two-fold: to rid myself of unnecessary clutter and to put some useful-to-someone-else items back into circulation via a charitable donation.
Speaking of charity, for that component of Lent, I’ll be attending a weekly series of Lenten lectures at a nearby church. They caught my attention with this title: Just Eating: Practicing Our Faith at the Table. Some of the topics look very interesting:
A Call to Action – changing our lives with faith in action steps, making our eating just, our bodies healthy & energizing our spirits to serve others.
On Nutrition – food as fuel, how our choices make a huge difference in our energy & our health as we make caring for our body a priority.
Food & Community – creating community with food, the importance of gathering at table and the power it has to nourish our bodies and souls.
Food & Environment – food and our environment, awareness of local cuisine and how to build ties between farmers, food artisans and community.
Food & Hunger – the problem of hunger in the Mid-South. Needs in our community can inform our actions & inspire us to examine our lifestyle.
I expect this series to be personally enriching and also to educate me on how I might better serve my community.
(Any Memphis people plan to attend? Give me a shout! The church is on Quince, just West of Kirby Parkway. There’s a Starbucks around the corner that would be perfect for a meet-up! No pastries allowed. Not where I can reach them, anyway. :))
So this is my version of Lent. I’m sure to be breaking some sort of rules, but I don’t particularly care. I’ll be pushing aside some things (panicky note to self: fiction=temporary) to allow time and space for building a better me, both on the inside and on the outside, to the community at large. That seems to be the purpose of Lent, within my limited understanding of it. And who knows? If it works well, I may create a Supplemental Lent to follow it.
Feel free to chime in with your own Lenten intentions. Or not. I know it’s a highly personal thing.
Whatever your beliefs, I wish you peace…