Next Wednesday, Lent begins, but discussions around our house about what to give up for the season have already begun.
EJ suggested yesterday that she thinks she might give up after-dinner treats, but "only those, because that is enough, and a few treats during the day aren't a problem."
I suggested we may want to rethink her plan if she would like to fully participate in Lent without little-kid dispensation this year.
I'm no shining example of Catholic self-sacrifice when it comes to Lent. I understand the meaning behind it—fast to draw closer to God, to understand suffering, to release yourself from "idols" in your life, to seek out prayer each day—but practically speaking, this sacrifice can all too quickly become self-improvement, or "Revenge of the New Year's Resolution." I don't think that is the point at all—"Follow Jesus' walk through the desert, and in just three EASY steps, lose 15 pounds by Easter Sunday!" If God were choosing an informercial script for this season, I don't think that would be the winner.
Should Lent be a way in which, through daily piety and prayer, we establish habits that last the rest of the year?
I don't think God has a problem with anyone starting to go to the gym regularly; at the same time, are squats and lunges something that draw folks closer to God?
It gets even more complicated, though, when you peel back the onion a bit. If the Lenten commitment is to make time every day for focused piety and prayer, well, I think you've got yourself a sure-fire winner. But what about if you just spend less time on your phone each day? That is trickier, because without the business of mind and disconnection from the present that phone time creates, an individual might immediately feel more peaceful, more present, and more mindful. Isn't that a form of prayer, to be truly present with those around you, or thoughtful when alone?
Only the people making Lenten sacrifices can really know what they mean, and to me, the profoundness of this season never seems to be adequately acknowledged by giving up chocolate, or going on a daily walk. I'm not saying that those types of sacrifices aren't spiritual—I can easily imagine turning to God in prayer every time you wanted (but did not have) coffee, for instance—I'm just saying that they don't ring the spiritual bell for me.
As for Mike and me, I think this year might mark a new kind of spiritual/practical hybrid in our Lenten devotion, as we are (GULP) going to cut out television all but on Sundays. I'm truly anxious about this, as I love television—I really, really, love television—which makes me know that I should give it a try. I also know that I am going to need serious divine intervention in my life to help me to do this, so that's not a bad sign, either. Practically, though, we are concerned that we waste too much time on shows, we stay up too late when we don't need to do so, and we pay too much for the television access that we have. If we can forgo television for six weeks, can we make long-term changes that give us more peace, more time together, better health, and more resources?
I hope that the fruits of the sacrifice are primarily spiritual, but even I must admit, without a hint of blasphemy intended, I think the entire Holy Trinity would be pleased if, this April, we ended our relationship with Comcast.