I never really got the whole “give things up for Lent”. It wasn’t part of my heritage, and it never made sense to me. I’d try, of course. I’d give up chocolate or whatever the taste-du-jour was, but I failed, every single time.
Last year, for the first time in my life, I actually started to look at Lent differently. My friend and I worked through Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. That book is the story of how the Hatmaker family challenged the excesses in their lives. Over seven months, they chose seven areas and pared each area down to seven items in that category. The areas included clothing, shopping, media, stress, food, media and possessions. I’m not sure the book is for everyone. I appreciated it, but I found myself thinking that someone would really have to be ready to look candidly at themselves or they might resent it. I thought the author had a great sense of humour, and I thought her experiment was an interesting one–although not enough to dedicate a year of my own life to it. Instead, my friend and I looked at each of the targeted areas of excess for one week each during Lent.
There are two important things I realized during that time. The first is this: I dislike trying on clothes (really, does one-size fit anyone? Why does a large in one store not even fit the mannequin in another? If a size zero doesn’t fit over my elbow, why does that make me feel like such a zero?).
Even so, somehow I managed to have a closet full of clothes I wasn’t really wearing. I wore uncomfortable shoes until I saw an ortho-podiatrist last year, a wonder-woman who informed me that most people wear shoes too small for them, and can benefit from using custom orthotics. Because of Seven, I pared things down to the clothes I’m actually comfortable in. Nothing is crowded in my closet and I’ve emptied out an entire bureau. And you know what? I’m not missing the clothes I never wore.
(I’m also not ready to let go of the who-knows-why-its-my-favourite-but-I-promise-to-wear-it-only-in-the-house sweater).
The second thing I learned is just how much I’ve grown as a person since my world fell apart. There continues to be something very freeing in that knowledge, but that’s a story for another day.
It took me long enough, but I’ve finally realized Lent has little to do with giving things up–that’s the reason I wasn’t successful at it before. Lent has a spiritual component that I’m still learning about. It’s not so much about giving up things as it is about intentionally seeking God. It’s a simple concept that sometimes isn’t easy.
This year, I’m going to participate in another Lent challenge. I know it will take discipline, and I’m feeling like I’m so busy I won’t be able to keep up … which I suppose, is the very reason I need to do it. I may even fail, but that only gives me an opportunity to ask forgiveness and try again. The only thing I’m giving up, really, is my time–and yet, I’m not really ‘giving up time’. No one else will benefit from how I spend the minutes allotted to me. I’m simply choosing to use my time in a different way.
A few years ago, I was really against the whole idea of journalling my thoughts. But I’d been challenged to do it, and honestly, I hate not rising to a challenge. So I decided to start with something I felt was doable and yet not too personal. I participated in Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare. It was hard, and some of the prompts were difficult because they made me search for things to be grateful about and there were some days, even weeks, when I was not in the mood to give up a perfectly good mad.
And so when the year was over and the journal was full of bullet points, I quit. As that year progressed, I realized how much my attitude had negatively shifted when I didn’t focus on being grateful.
This past January, I began again, intentionally looking for at least three things to be grateful for every day, and this year it’s highly personal. Some days, it’s hard to find them. On many of those days, I resent that it’s hard.
Other days, I can find ten things by the time noon rolls around, and then I forget to write them down until its four in the afternoon. But when I need to be reminded of the blessings in my life, they’re easy for me to look at. Ten minutes of reading can seismically shift an entire woe-is-me mood.
So, as I begin my own personal journey for Lent 2014, the one thing I’m not giving up is the search for blessings in my life. In fact, I have every expectation that I’m going to gain more than I ever thought possible.