Thursday, February 12, 2015

Getting real about Lent (sorry, not a book post)

I have not one, not two, but three books to write up for you (Parrot and Olivier in America, Youth Without God, and a Don Camillo collection) -- but I wanted to write up something about Lent so I'm going to go ahead and do that first. Sorry. I do fully intend to write those three up soon, before I totally forget what I had to say about them, so please excuse this digression and we'll be back to our contractual obligations soon.

Right, so. Lent.

I have an abysmal track record when it comes to Lent. As a kid, my family always attended (and not infrequently was in charge of) Friday Stations & Soup nights during Lent, but I had little notion of "giving something up" until I got to high school. Then, it seemed to be mostly a matter of making a big fuss anytime someone (probably me) dared to eat something chocolate during Lent. UGGGGGGH, DON'T EAT THAT IN FRONT OF ME, I CAN'T EAT CHOCOLATE CUZ IT'S LENT, UGGGGH!!!! Between religion class and school Masses I was pretty much aware of the degree to which these various girls did not actually believe in Christianity/Catholicism (Ed. according to them! this is not just me being judgey!), so the whole "giving something up" practice just seemed illogical, hypocritical, and/or superstitious. My Lenten problem was only heightened in college, where the Catholic center seemed to agree with my view on "giving something up" but didn't seem to have much to offer in terms of making sense of Lent. The approved view was something along the lines of "doing something nice extra" but it was nothing on the scale of or with the same tone as those childhood Stations & Soup nights and so it wasn't at all clear what we were doing differently from any other forty days of the year. Really, it's only been in the last five years or so that I've not only gained an intellectual understanding of Lent but also begun to spiritually understand it (that is, understanding it from a more organic place).

Still, even in these last five years, I've struggled to effectively do anything for Lent, because as it turns out I have very little will-power when it comes to small day-to-day choices. A priest once described sacrifices as "practicing saying no to yourself" which really turned a light on for me... which then made it clear how infrequently I really succeed in saying no to myself. Those girls who mechanically gave up chocolate for Lent were actually doing something I would find at least as difficult to do for any reason. It's one of the major recurring spiritual lessons of my life, really, that being perhaps a more intellectually inclined person doesn't let you shortcut around the basic training you get from practices like saying rosaries or novenas or "giving something up". I definitely grew up in an environment that valued, say, meditation over vocal prayer, and being in the top ten of my class academically made me think I was on some kind of spiritual AP track too and shouldn't have to "bother" with the "basics"; but what I've found is that I make more progress in the former when I pay humble attention to the latter. Anyway.

With that lengthy bit of background, I have hopes for this year. I want to try, and to succeed or fail as it may be, with as little fudging of the goal posts as possible. This blog post is part of that, as I tend to sort of throw together a Lent plan on Fat Tuesday and then retrospectively tweak it. So here I am, putting it all in complete sentences on the public internet.

As our friend Count Fosco would say: "Behold -- the programme!"


As I mentioned above, this is a hard one for me, and I am aiming high this year. No snacking. I am a big-time stress eater, and I know it's a spiritual problem for me and not just a diet or budget problem. It's stress, but it's also boredom and escapism. I know from long experience at this point that when I let myself get into a habit of lots of extra treats and snacks during the day and in the evening, it's a sign that I'm not dealing with what I need to be dealing with. This has certainly occurred to me as a possible Lenten sacrifice before, but I've avoided it out of either pride ("giving up snacks? boring") or cowardice ("too hard, I'll never be able to do it"). This year, though, I'm taking aim. I'll probably want to complain about it like those girls in high school, and if it's super hard, it's super hard. As a corollary: I will be focusing on eating three proper meals in the day (except the big fasting days obvs) in order to counteract the drifting.


This devotional site sort of came out of the blue for me; I had never heard of it, and I think it's new, except I haven't seen anything announcing its newness. I just saw a retweet and when I clicked through liked what I found. Anyway, I ordered their Lenten journal (you can get it as a digital download) and I'm going to give the prayer journaling a try. I already have a few "extra" prayers and novenas going on for various intentions so there's that too; but praying with scripture is something I'm a bit lazy about so I want to make an effort to stay on track with it this Lent.


The funny thing about the three parts of Lenten sacrifices is how very bad I am at all three of them. I guess that's, like, the human condition but there you go. Anyway, I think what I need this Lent is to be more hands-on. Some years I feel like what I need is to put a crowbar in my wallet and give some money away, but this year I think I need to actually perform some service. One of the young adult groups I attend does a monthly Saturday mission helping with a parish food bank, and so I am tentatively planning to participate in one of those Saturdays (I haven't seen the dates yet, so assuming that works out). Otherwise, I am "challenging" myself to participate in some other service day (there's always a few during Lent). Again with the pride: I tend to think that I, in my specialness, don't need some kind of National Honor Society-style pre-packaged service day, but that's ridiculous.

So there you go: an actual three-point plan for Lent, formulated nearly a week in advance of Ash Wednesday. *makes pumping iron gesture*


  1. I totally agree with you. Lent sometimes seems like a competition to see who can give up the most and best. :) I love your plan. I'm doing the journal too; it looks great--and totally doable!!!

  2. "It's one of the major recurring spiritual lessons of my life, really, that being perhaps a more intellectually inclined person doesn't let you shortcut around the basic training you get from practices like saying rosaries or novenas or "giving something up"."

    Ooh, liking it.

    That's also an interesting point about snacking becoming a spiritual problem. I think I def use it as escapism sometimes when I don't want to deal with a problem. And omg I haven't prayed with scripture in for-evs and that seems like such a good idea. I think last year I made a commitment to reading 10 verses a day and meditating on them, and then that turned into 10 verses a day as a feasible way to read through the Bible. It's reeeal hard to meditate on 1 Chronicles.

    Journaling might be good though......

  3. Stopping by from the BIS linkup--I love what you say about one's intellectual level not precluding us from keeping up with the basics. I definitely needed to hear that for both myself and my family!

    Thanks for sharing!

    P.S. Jenna (the founder of BIS) started up the idea last summer, and we started devotions themselves in September. So yes, pretty new, and it has taken off beyond our wildest expectations! So glad you are a part of the community :)