Conversations this week in my circle of friends have usually included naming what he or she is “giving up for Lent.” The Lent season started last week on Feb. 17, Ash Wednesday. It’s a 40-day period – not including Sundays – that ends on Easter Sunday.
The tradition of giving up something for Lent is wrapped in the theme of the self-sacrifice of Jesus and as a time to test your self-discipline and concentrate on God.
I wasn’t very diligent with the whole sacrifice thing as a child. For years I would give up “broccoli” which I hated anyway, even when it was drowning in my mother’s Velveeta cheese sauce. When I was older and couldn’t get away with the broccoli thing, I would give up things like smoking or overeating. Smoking wasn’t that hard for me. I was always an occasional smoker, and I always went back to it after Lent. It kind of dispelled the whole “40-days and you’ll break the habit” theory. As for overeating? Well, that kind of depends on whose measuring stick you’re using, doesn’t it?
One year, when I was in college, I said I was giving up “cursing,” which my pastor found somewhat disconcerting.
It wasn’t until one of my pastors brought a new twist to Lent that I really began to take the idea seriously. He suggested that instead of giving up something, maybe it would be better to focus on developing a new, good habit that would, hopefully, continue after Easter.
It was evidently a concept that was spreading, and I began to hear more and more friends who were looking at self-improvement and self-awareness as a worthy thing to do during Lent.
I was more successful after that, except for the years I foolishly put down “exercise” as my new goal. I have had no trouble finding things to improve and have made true, valiant attempts through recent years to work on adding some new, good things to my life. Some of them have stuck.
I have also been inspired by the creativeness of some of my friends with their Lent pledges. One friend is intentionally doing a kind deed every day, in a pay-it-forward spirit. One is turning off her cell phone at 6 p.m. every day and looking for ways to have real conversations with her spouse and children. Several have given up social media for the season. One is stopping television at 8 p.m., including streaming, and tackling her book list. Another is making a daily donation to a charity, some days in cash and other days as an article of clothing, food for a food pantry or a household item for Habitat for Humanity. A few are starting new meditations or Bible readings daily.
Share your ideas about Lent! I know this year has already been filled with sacrifice and more than time than perhaps is healthy for self-examination. But spring is coming. Easter Sunday is early this year. Here’s hoping we will all emerge from our cocoons with new, good habits and fewer bad ones!
Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.