I remember when I was a kid growing up and I'd hear about Lent. I didn't understand what it meant, or why it was even important. I just knew that it was "Catholic" and we didn't do it at our house. I never went to CCD, and somehow was jealous of the group of kids I knew who somehow had a bond that I didn't because they were forced to take a bible class once a week to prove they were worthy to be a member of the church.
"I got confirmed this weekend," some kids would say, "and now my mom says I don't have to go to church anymore." Whatever it meant to be Catholic, as I grew in my faith I just knew that it was easily blown off and somewhat of a fashion statement to say you were one just so you had a "thing" with other Catholics. It's a culture that Irish Massachusetts people tend to have, and oftentimes when I tell people I go to church and that I believe in God, they will say something to the extent of, "Well I'm Catholic, BUT..." as if to say they're covered either way. They'll go to church for funerals, weddings, and maybe a Christmas or an Easter when their Grandmother makes them, but they'll save their lifestyles for when they have kids and make them go to CCD and suffer just as they did.
But for what is the "suffering" that they put themselves through? Is it just so they can continue a family tradition? Is it because a part of them feels as though they have to, simply because everyone they know does it as well? Or is God somehow in there somewhere in the mix, waiting to be discovered and weighing in on hearts to keep a luke-warm connection with Him?
So back to my middle school days of listening to girls at the lunch table, comparing their Lenten sacrifices.
"Well my parents order fish n chips every Friday so that we don't eat meat, but last week my brother ate a bologna sandwich for lunch. Mom made him go to confession on Sunday, but Father Reily said it was ok."
"I gave up chocolate, and then two days later I totally forgot when my Gramma brought over cookies! I felt bad but, whatever they were good cookies."
"Oh I gave up chocolate too! My sister gave up ice cream. Too bad her birthday is during lent, but she can still have cake."
If you see the pattern here, I never once heard God in any of these conversations. I only knew, (after asking my pastor at the Federated Church) that because Jesus was tempted for 40 days in the desert, Catholics chose 40 days before Easter to give up something that tempts them. And because Jesus fasted during that time, they had to give up meat on Fridays. (Granted, there are Catholics who fast every Friday during Lent, or they fast periodically throughout, but those are hard people to come by these days). ONLY FRIDAYS?! And these girls were complaining about chocolate, when Jesus starved and prayed for 40 days with Satan trying to get knocked out in the second round?? Oh, I'm sorry I guess giving up sweets qualifies for your ticket into Heaven. Didn't realize it was as spirit-breaking as being the Son of God and dying for sins or anything like that.
Ok, that was a harsh last couple of sentences, but the whole thing just seemed silly to me. Until I decided to challenge myself two years ago and give up something not because I wanted to be part of the fad, but because I was trying to understand the real true point of Lent. I didn't want to say I was doing something and then give up after three days like a gym membership after New Years when everyone does it and then everyone forgives each other for not following through. That year I was determined to do something that would change my spirit for the better. Jesus' spirit and faith and livelihood was tested during His time in the desert, so I chose something that I had an issue with that was making me terribly unhappy, and I gave it up. I gave up sex for lent.
Two years ago I was in a dark place. I was in a dark place for most of college, as some of my friends knew. I was depressed and I felt neglected and alone. The boy that I thought I would somehow end up with in a fairytale sort of ending, didn't turn out the way that I had planned and prayed for. So I pursued attention and love from anywhere I could or couldn't get it. I was used and abused, and while I was enjoying the attention, I felt awful most of the time. Giving up sex made me realize that I had the ability to figure out well ahead of the game just what a man was looking for when he first met me. Sex or girlfriend? There's only two options, really. Even if they don't fall in lvoe with you in two seconds, you just seem to know right away if he only wants to get laid or if he's more than just that. The power that I gained over my self control and my discernment was absolutely a turning event in my life. That was the Lent that snowballed into changing many habits that I had; habits of a girl that I didn't recognize or like most of the time.
Last year was a sad Lent for me. I was trying to give up sweets and overeating, because those were habits that induced my bulimic tendencies. If I ate a half carton of ice cream, I could be sure it was coming back up. My bulimia was so bad, that I couldn't go to work at the cafeteria without eating three platefuls of food a couple of times throughout the night. I remember taking home food to repeat the process when I got home. I told everyone that I was giving up sweets, when really I was giving up the abuse I was doing on my body. Honest to God, only through prayer did I get through beating an eating disorder, because He knows I wasn't telling anyone about it. I was in therapy for four months and never said a word about it.
Two years ago, Lent was something I decided to take seriously and truly explore what spiritual change could do when you sacrifice something the flesh is tempted by, even though I'm not baptized as a Catholic! So this year I still have about a day to decide what I'm giving up. I try to do it the right way and fast on Ash Wednesday, so maybe I'll be able to make a real decision by the time the sun sets. Although I have nothing that's really killing me emotionally or physically this time around, I'll have to take something away or add a habit that I've been meaning to add that could really help me in the long run as oppose to only up until Easter. Because if it weren't for Lent, I would probably be without any idea of what a healthy relationship is and I wouldn't remember what it was like to eat a meal just to enjoy it. So I have a lot to be thankful for due to something that some people think is just as BS as a New Years resolution.