What are you giving up for Lent?
Now that Christmas and all its excesses is firmly behind us the Christian church is preparing for the season of Lent, which remembers the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil, if scripture is to be believed, before his entry into Jerusalem. The forty days run from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter Sunday) and so called because the crowds waved palms before Jesus when he entered Jerusalem. The day prior to Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Tuesday when traditionally Christians made their confessions and were 'shriven' of their sins and food containing fat and eggs were eaten (today we eat pancakes) in preparation for the day of fasting and abstinence that is Ash Wednesday.
For centuries Christians have been exhorted 'to give something up for Lent'. Chocolate, sugar, alcohol and tobacco were usually top of the list and along with meat on a Friday. However the Catholic church in this country have now reintroduced the practice of abstaining from meat on a Friday but personally I do not think this is a 'big deal' as I would rather have fish and chips than a beef burger any day! The abstinence from meat on a Friday has always been a bone of contention (perhaps an unfortunate choice of words!) since I was able to reason, I could not understand why we were told that a slice or two of corned beef in a sandwich on a Friday was against the rules and yet a succulent steak of salmon (which we could never afford in our family) was perfectly acceptable.
The abstinence from tobacco and alcohol was difficult for many people for it was an escape from the reality of the harshness of life. It was not that either were comsumed in large quantities but were seen as luxuries to be enjoyed after a hard week's work. The withdrawal symptoms caused short tempers and frayed nerves and for a time there was an uneasy peace in many households. The money saved by refraining from buying alcohol and tobacco was not always given to the cause for which it was intended but instead was spent on necessities such as shoes for the children.
When my own children were small I obviously encouraged them to think about giving something up for Lent but this was not very successful. Sure they gave up sugar in the tea but when Lent was over they decided they liked tea better that way and to this day do not take sugar at all!
I have given up various things over the years and the charity box has benefitted by a small amount but I did not feel I had made any great sacrifice. I felt selfsatisfied and smug when saying no to a glass of wine during a Lent when I had given up alcohol and passing the box of chocolates on with a 'Oh no, not for me, I have given them up for Lent!' I came to realise that those feelings did not, for me, capture the true spirit of Lent. After all, I had bought neither the wine nor the chocolates but had let my ';sacrifice' become public. Perhaps the true way in Lent would be not to focus on giving up my pleasures but rather give more of my time and myself to others. I could deny myself chocolate if I chose and put the money not spent in the charity box but rather than give up something tangible my 'sacrifice' this year will be something different. I hope to take every opportunity I see to do a random act of kindness, whether it is a smile to a stranger, shopping for a neighbour or giving a hug if it is needed. So this Lent I am not giving up anything but rather giving away that which I have been blessed with in abundance - love - and hope that it is contagious!