Ash Wednesday and Lent

I am not a holiday fan.

I know, grinch-ish.  Nonetheless, they tend to move people in the opposite direction of their intention.  Valentine’s day causes men to believe that the only day they need to buy flowers for their wife is Feb. 14.

“What more do you want from me?”

Burial of the Sardine

So Ash Wednesday and Lent birth Mardi Gras and the false asceticism of lent practices.  Mardi Gras brings out the worst in human behavior, all before we have to get better for lent.  Then we purge for forty days prior to Holy celebrations of Easter only to revert back to “normal” after it is all over.

This is not healthy Christianity.

Here are some of the things we are “giving up” for lent (from Twitter):

Facebook
Texting
Beef
Caffeine
Ben & Jerry’s
Despair
Fast food
Peanut butter
Negative Thinking
Extraneous spending
Alcohol

So the assumption behind the “giving up” for lent is that when it is over we can revert to unhealthy, petty, insignificant, destructive behaviors and restore a “normal” life.  Holidays should not discourage us from maturity, but spur us on to “holi”ness.  So don’t give up a thing for lent. Instead, add a good habit that will begin in the forty days and stick beyond Easter, and because of Easter, which is a celebration of life.  Lent , like all holidays, should be a time of exaggerated living, that is, people trying to increase good behavior.  Give more, pray more, love more, help more, make an extra effort at positive holiness.

We demean the celebration by highlighting our negative behavior, appeasing  our conscience by refraining from them for a season when they should not be a part of our life or an issue at all.  Giving up texting is an unnecessary and trivial exercise.  Texting?  We use these issues as excuses to ignore  the root of the matter.  Instead of giving up texting, do what you are supposed to do when you are texting.  If you are feeling guilty about texting, is it because it is keeping you from…working???  So get to work.  You should probably give up fast food forever, it will kill you early.  Why give it up for lent?  Why not regard your body with the respect it deserves as a precious gift from God and care for it, all year.  Are you seriously going to go back to “negative thinking” after Easter?  Stop using holidays as an excuse for mediocre living.

The Battle between Carnival and Lent
"The Battle between Carnival and Lent"

Maybe I am overreacting, but I for one find this cyclical pattern harmful to my overall progress in Christ.  Make this Holy Season a time to celebrate Christ in a superior fashion.

Christian growth is attempted in one of two ways:  The first attempts the giving up of certain practices.  “Stop doing that!” is the mantra of this camp.

The second, and superior way, attempts to add healthy and positive behaviors to life, and like bermuda grass, the strength and tenacity of health chokes out unhealthy and destructive behavior.

The first way only has limited success and results in legalism and arrogance.  The second way is rewarding and helps us to get to the goal: Christlikeness.

Ash Wednesday, Lent, Easter, Christmas should reflect ongoing values and behaviors, affirming and celebrating the upward journey.  Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Related Posts:

  • Tim Bagdanov

    Are you saying that my lent goal of giving up Green M&M’s is not beneficial?

  • Ellen

    If Tim gives up the red it would be better.
    I like your reasoning here. It seems preparing our hearts and minds for what Jesus did for us should be an ongoing everyday of the year thing.

  • Vera

    Thank you Steve. This was very good and very challenging.

  • RG

    I’m giving up blogs for lent. See you in mid-April.

  • Lent is just fasting. Surely you can’t be saying that fasting is a bad idea?

    Like when you fast from food (typically food is a good thing), Lent is for depriving yourself of some typical comfort so you CAN focus on works of mercy. It’s not a vacation from sin 🙂 If it’s sin, then, sure…go for a lifelong fast.

    I’m somewhat new to the liturgical tradition, but I have to say that my family’s first Ash Wednesday and Lent were powerful. (We gave up TV and movies, since you asked)

    What was most powerful? That we took time to ponder the heavier parts of the faith…the brokenness within and without.

    In that context, the Easter vigil and celebration were unlike any other time of worship for us.

    My experience is that Ash Wednesday and Lent led my family into our first real ‘holy day’ – the idea of marking time by our story in Christ does make a difference. I wouldn’t toss it out so quickly.

  • G man

    What you have managed to do is describe Lent, not by any definition that any of the churches, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, that participate in Lent use. However, you have taken what misguided individuals use Lent for. Every Church that uses Lent as a time for reflection and self examination is in perfect union with you. They all agree on being Christ like on a daily basis. None of them use Lent as a time to “Stop sinning” as they all state that sinning should be shunned by all, at all times. Lent is a time for self reflection and a time to try and put aside some of the things in life that are not inherently bad, but tend to get in our way in a busy life. it is a time to prioritize our walk with God and attempt to place proper balance in our life by denying ourselves and immersing oneself in prayer and discipline. The hope is that this greater approach to seeking God will discipline the mind and soul to be a greater servant all the year.

    I suppose if this answer does not suffice then none will. I remember attending a men’s retreat in the mountains. It was a similar experience. Careful examination. Thoughtful evaluation. although it was only 2 days it was helpful and I appreciated the men I was with and the Pastoral guidance I was given. Far be it from me to say that setting 2 days aside for self renemal and payer would lead me to a false sense of spirituality and in the end send me into complecancy. It did the exact opposite. My Lenten experience did the same. I think we live in a culture and society that rarely allows for discipline in regular life let alone our faith. I have played many sports in my life and I have partaken in gruelling military training. The one thing that stands true and resonates in all this is that I trained harder than the actual sport/military task itself was. By turning up the level of training, I made the actual event easier. This analogy may not fit perfectly but I do think that it could stress a point. Lent is a time for self examination and prayerful reflection. In the end if it takes one to a closer walk with God, as it did me, I will not begrudge one who does it earnestly and with God as it’s founder.