Friday, February 20, 2015

Let's give it up . . .

       For many Christians, this past Wednesday (2/18) was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a 40+ day season known as Lent.  Many folks, Christian or not, have heard about the season, if in no other context than "What are you giving up for Lent?"  I don't want to go into a whole history of Lent and its observance; that information is freely available (Thanks, Google!).  I will just say that the season focuses on spiritual discipline.  That can include acts of service, other acts of prayer/devotion, fasting or self-denial.  It's those last two areas (fasting & self-denial) that stand behind the "What are you giving up . . .?" question.  The two answers I most often heard when growing up among my friends who observed Lent were: chocolate and the Sunday comics page.  Those two objects of "self-denial" were made the more sweet on Easter Sunday (the end of Lent), when both chocolate and the Sunday funnies were permitted and indulged in -- in abundance!
        One of the challenges faced by anyone--religious or otherwise--who "gives up" something for a season (a day, week, month or 40 days) is seeing that practice as practice, not just an end in itself.  That is, this is not practice, but rather an end: "I'm not drinking Starbucks Triple-shot Vanilla Lattes UNTIL . . .!  And THEN I get to drink them again as much as I want!"  Practice would be not to drink those lattes in order to wean oneself of drinking them in the future, and perhaps donating the money that would have been spent to some worthy cause.        In the 'giving up" vein, then (since there are other ways of self-discipline), I was intrigued and challenged, but some suggestions that appeared in my Facebook feed this week.*  They were, to be sure, contextualized by Lent, but many went far beyond a Christian framework.  I can't think of any religious tradition that wouldn't suggest giving up the following:
  • Fear of Failure
  • Feelings of Unworthiness
  • Overcommitment
  • Entitlement
  • Apathy
  • Hatred
  • Bitterness
  • Mediocrity
  • Busyness
  • Idolizing
  • Pride
  • Envy
  • Ungratefulness
      What struck me about so many of these was that they seem to be "virtues" or attitudes that are promoted in so much of our society.  And, I would imagine that very few of them make us happy, joyful or peaceful -- that is, they do little to give us what we really want, for ourselves, our loved ones, or the world.      So, regardless of tradition, let's give it up.  But not just for a time-certain, at which point we resume our pride, or unworthiness, or overcommitment.  Let's give it up for a time, on the road to some permanent, life-giving, changes.


* For those interested in the full list, it was forwarded to me from the website of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Old Bridge, NJ.

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