A Muslim friend asked me last week, "Are you excited for Lent?" I paused. Was I excited for Lent? Yes? I mean, I don't get excited for Lent the way I get excited for Christmas, but I suppose I do celebrate this new spiritual season. Spring is more beautiful when you've been through winter.
Being a cradle Episcopalian, I don't subscribe to some of the more well-known Catholic rules (e.g., I eat meat whenever I want, etc.), but the general spirit is the same. I think of something to give up, but I also think of something I can take on, and how those can work together. What can I do for these next 40 days that will make me a better person and bring me closer to God?
That's where I start to get in the weeds. It's not easy to take a look at your vices every year and make a conscious decision to try to eradicate them from your life. I also tend to pick seemingly random and abstract things. I have given up sloth twice. Yes, sloth. In my pre-kid days, I was hitting the snooze button too many times in the morning. Sloth! I could fold the laundry, but I would rather sit on the couch and watch a new show I've heard about. Sloth! I will tell you that that 40 days was completely exhausting, but I got a LOT accomplished. Should I have picked something easier? No way. That 40 days got me out of a rut and moving forward.
In one of my more memorable Lents, I gave up not telling my personal truth. Yes, that's a double negative. Let's say it this way instead: I took on speaking my personal truth. That was a dangerous 40 days. Essentially, I couldn't tell any little white lies, and I had to voice my opinion if I saw something that I felt was wrong. Dangerous, I tell you, dangerous. For instance, I went on a girls' trip and had to tell my friend's husband my opinion when he said to me, "Well, the moms do all the hard work while the dads get to have fun. That's how it works." I disagreed. I voiced that dissent and my friend, the wife, was furious. Many years later — with that episode long behind us, along with her divorce — we laugh about it and, when we need to give each other some tough love, we preface it by announcing, "Personal truth!" Do I regret making that choice for Lent? Nope. That 40 days helped me find my voice.
One year, I gave up judging others. Jokingly, I could say that that was a particularly boring 40 days. Truthfully, it was hard. Really hard. But I walked away from that Lent a kinder, more empathetic person.
Of course, the idea is that something that you give up stays out of your life after that. I wish I could tell you that was the case with all of these, but it wasn't. They crept back in and I've had to repeat those Lenten promises a couple of times, but the result is that I am more aware of those vices in my life. I wish I could also tell you that I was 100% successful in those Lenten promises. I wasn't. Thankfully, I believe that God is a loving and forgiving God who understands if sometimes you cave and watch "Game of Thrones" with your husband instead of scrapbooking your eight-year-old's baby pictures. I can't say for certain, but I think that God understands when you say you're sorry, get up the next day, and try again. And He still loves you.
So what about this year? What am I giving up? What am I taking on? I would love to take on being in the moment with my kids all the time, but I know that's probably not realistic. (Maybe that's why I should try it.) I would love to take on exercise and pick some crazy goal to train for: Marathon! Iron Man! But I know that 1) I don't have the time to devote to that, 2) that sounds like my personal hell (which is maybe the point, right?) and 3) making the sacrifices for that would take me away from what I think I really need to change, which is to carve out the time to write every day.
This last bit is the combination of everything I've tried to give up over the years. It's battling sloth because actively writing means that I'm not procrastinating. It's speaking personal truth because I'll be saying all of the things I actually want to say. It's giving up judgment, not of others, but of myself. It's easy for me to censor myself and say, "That's not any good. No one will want to read that." I'm giving myself the permission to get it all out. Maybe it will be in a form that no one will ever read, but I'm giving myself the permission to write it.
So, yes, I'm excited for Lent. I'm excited for the chance to lean into using my gifts. It's somehow easier for me to do it when I say that I'm giving something up/taking something on for God, rather than just for myself. Plus, I think that when you're being who you're really supposed to be, God pours through you. So, Lent, here we go! Day 1: Check!