After a short history of (almost) three Easters, I’m done with Lent.
I observed Lent for the first time in 2012, giving up chocolate and alcohol. Last year I went one step further by staying clear of chocolate and coffee. It really was only one step further – though for many friends of mine, no coffee for a day or a week (let alone the 40 days leading up to Easter) is really a leap too far into the dark abyss of decaf and tea.
My decision to observe this form of Lent again this year was a last minute thing. I didn’t think much about it and in fact my logic was essentially: “I’ve done it before, why not do it again?” The spontaneous nature of the decision also led to a lack of creativity – I chose, once again, to abstain from chocolate and coffee.
But now that I’m halfway through Lent, I am starting to wonder what’s the point?
Okay, so when you’re used to having a cup a day, not having coffee sucks pretty badly the first week or so – I get headaches and feel generally sluggish. But the truth is I barely miss it, and I definitely don’t miss chocolate (although don’t get me wrong, I do love it). Observed in this way, Lent is mildly inconvenient but not difficult.
Is it even meant to be difficult? Lent is supposed to parallel or shadow Jesus’ 40 days in the desert with no food or water, after which he was tempted by Satan. Traditionally there is an element of penance and self-denial embedded in Lent. The thing is, I don’t believe in the value of either of those things. I believe reparation will often be appropriate when you’ve wronged somebody, but when you wrong God the best thing you can do is say you’re sorry and not do it again. I believe in self-control and in sacrifice for the benefit of another, but not in self-denial for its own sake, and least of all as a show of piety.
A show of piety is exactly what this looks like. All the times I’ve said no to an offer of chocolate or coffee, I’ve had to explain that it’s for Lent. The general response – that is, the one which frequently follows the initial reaction of “NO COFFEE ARE YOU CRAZY?!?!” – is: “Oh, good on you.” If people think I’m more religious or more committed to Christ (or both) because I’m managing to survive being temporarily deprived of mud cake and cappuccino, then observing Lent is actually counter-productive.
The inconvenience of not eating chocolate or drinking coffee for a few weeks doesn’t deepen (or prove) my faith or bring me any closer to God. He doesn’t care if do or I don’t and it doesn’t help or harm anyone. In fact, I’m not even sure it means anything at all.
I’ve come to the conclusion that, observed this way, Lent is religion, not faith and not relationship – and I’m about the latter two, not the former.
Now, this is also supposed to be a time to devote yourself more to God, through prayer, for example. If I were able to set aside more time for prayer then Lent would have a point: it would be about building my relationship with God, and so it’d be worth doing. (Incidentally, I’ve definitely failed in that department.) But then again, more prayer isn’t something that should be confined to the lenten season. Nor should repentance or acts of charity, or any other good thing associated with Lent – that would be like only being a Christian on Sundays, or at Christmas.
Yep, pretty sure I won’t bother with Lent next year. There are 345 other days in the year and far better ways to practice and grow my faith.