A few years ago, a couple my friends were discussing Lent. Scott reported that he’d recently learned that if you give something up for Lent, you’re allowed to indulge in that something on Sundays during the six-week period before Easter.
The rationale is that Lent doesn’t affect Sundays, because each Sunday is a mini-Easter, and Easter trumps Lent – or something like that. (Still sounds kinda kooky to me, but I don’t make the rules.)
Scott was similarly aghast, but Tom challenged him to do just that. ‘Give up coffee for Lent, except on Sundays, and make it mean just as much as if you kept up the fast on Sundays, too.’
I snickered, and suggested that Tom was thinking in terms of subjective reality, rather than objective reality. Doesn’t a sacrifice mean what it means? Can our own attitude make a sacrifice more meaningful?
At the time of Scott and Tom’s conversation, I would have said no, and I’m still tempted to say no. The importance of a sacrifice is determined by God alone, and nothing we say or do can alter that.
The trouble is, it’s pretty clear that our attitudes can make sacrifices LESS meaningful.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6: 16-18
So, it seems, we can very easily cheapen a sacrifice if even part of our motivation is to outdo, or even keep up with, our neighbours. Not sure how one makes the pendulum swing the other way, though. How do you make it mean more?
But based on this verse and others, you won’t be helping that cause by telling others what you’re giving up. The left hand shouldn’t know what the right hand is doing, as the saying (derived from another Scripture passage) goes.
I broke that rule this year, announcing on Facebook that I was giving up Facebook for Lent. I did so knowingly – not because I wanted to brag, but because I wanted to let all my FB friends know why they were forced to do without my uberwitty status updates and comments for six weeks.
But last year, I toed the secrecy line. I didn’t tell anyone throughout Lent that I’d given up swearing (damn, that was hard!) and secular music. My little fasts were a secret between me and God.
But there was a problem.
As the season went on, and I soldiered ahead in secret, I began to feel proud — which is kinda the opposite of what Lenten sacrifice is supposed to do in us. The fact I was abstaining from these ‘vices,’ and doing so without the moral support of my friends or family, made me feel pretty darn pious.
Secrecy had become a vice of sorts. Sacrificing in secret was supposed to be an act of humility, but it’s probably true what they say of humility: once you realize you have it, you’ve lost it.
Therefore, I decided not only to give up Facebook for Lent this year, but secrecy, too. If this means I dropped the ball on having a perfect Lent on Ash Wednesday, so be it. Maybe Lent will be more meaningful for me if I let go of the notion that I could ever be a perfect little penitent.
Every time I have the urge to hit that little FB button on my browser’s bookmarks bar, I’ll say a prayer instead. The idea is to replace something frivolous and self-indulgent with quality time with God. It’s not just about what I’m not doing, it’s about what I’m doing instead.
And this time, I’m sure I’ve got my Lent-head on straight. Yay me!
Lent is a frustrating season. No matter how I choose to approach the six-week sombretude before Easter – all in an effort to move closer to God – all that I seem to accomplish is reminding myself how far I have to go.
But maybe that’s all Lent is really for.
Peace be with you.