Saturday, March 8, 2014

Lent: Overthinking It

I love rules. I'm a huge goody-two-shoes rules-loving nerd. They give me direction, and they help me center myself. Without them, our society as a whole would collapse.

My daughter has (long past) reached the age when she knows what "no" means. She understands that there are rules in our house. I don't care if she pulls stuff out of drawers, but Lawwwwd have mercy, if she TOUCHES our stereo system, she KNOWS there are consequences. She can put her grubby hands all over the windows, I don't care. But if she goes NEAR the steps, well, hell hath no fury like that of a mad momma. You can see that she makes these connections when she very slowly crawls toward the stereo system or the steps, carefully looks around to see if anyone is looking, and then jumps out of her skin when I abruptly say her name.

We must have rules in order to thrive. People often resent this. Why is it, then, that so many normally lukewarm Christians find Lent so fascinating? Lent, after all, is a period of self sacrifice and "rule following."
These are some attitudes I often see during Lent:


Obviously...missing the point. Lent is a time when we make sacrifices in order to more fully unite ourselves with the suffering of Christ. It is to remind us that we must "take up our cross daily and follow Him."We are not all called to be martyrs, but we still need this yearly reminder to discipline our minds and bodies.

On the other hand, especially from Catholics, I see almost an obsession with what the "rules" are regarding fasting and abstinence during Lent. In case you are interested, here are the guidelines:

  • Age 18-59: Required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
    • Fasting=one full meal, two smaller meals that equal one regular meal, and no eating between meals
  • Age 14+: Required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent
  • Increase almsgiving (giving money to the poor/other charitable organizations and donating time)

This is, of course, assuming you have no medical issues that would make it harmful for you to follow these guidelines. I have to admit: I HATE fasting. I probably shouldn't even say that, because it's complaining which Scripture clearly tells us not to do when fasting or almsgiving. Fasting from food is probably the most difficult physical sacrifice that I can make. So a small (or maybe not so small) part of me was pretty pumped when I realized I didn't have to fast since I'm pregnant. 

Story of my life

After thinking about it, though, I realized that I was focusing too much on the "rule" and not enough on what the rule is there for. And quickly after that came a startling realization that life does not revolve around food (gasp!) and there are other non-food related things from which I can fast. 

Sometimes we miss the point of these Lenten guidelines and simply follow them just for the sake of following them. I can't tell you how many times I have heard people say: "Yes! I'm 60! I don't have to fast anymore!!" or "Now, if I eat this sandwich AND chips, does that equal one full meal or just a small meal?" 

This over attention to detail can take away from the meaning of these practices. Of course, the rules are important, and they are there to guide us along the way. But I can't tell you what the best way to observe Lent would be, because what works well for me could be completely wrong for you. What I do for Lent might seem far too extreme for some, or way too easy for others. But what really matters is that I know in my heart what I do helps me to discipline myself and become more aware and thankful for the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. And most importantly, it helps me grow closer to God. 

1 comment:

  1. Abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent is a strong cultural thing for Catholics. Funny enough, I've known people who haven't been to church in years who still skip meat on Fridays.


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