Right now is the time of Lent for many religions. For the liberals religions, like mine, we may not observe the rules of Lent, but it can still have value for us. So first we need to know what Lent is and a brief history of Lent.
According to that all knowing source, Wikipedia, “Lent, in most Christian denominations, is the forty-day liturgical season of fasting and prayer before Easter. The forty days represent the time Jesus spent in the desert, where, according to the Bible, he endured temptation by Satan. Different churches will calculate the forty days differently.“Later it goes on to say “There are traditionally forty days in Lent which are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance.“
It is that fasting and abstinence, most often most associated with the Catholic religion here in the States, that we most often associate with Lent. There is much more to it, of course, and I don’t mean to take this holy time to lightly or casually, so no offense is meant to any of the pious reading this. I welcome your input.
Observed from the outside I see two important ways that lent affects me and may affect you. First is that, as with any self-imposed deprivation, this time of sacrifice can actually lead to over indulgence before and after. Consider Mardi Gras and Carnival for example. Both of these are direct anticipations of the austere time to come. People who are about to go on diets experience the exact same thing. Right before you got on that diet, you binge. Next week you can’t have that chocolate cake, so you are going to have even more of it now to make up for it. In many ways people use Lent as more of a time for recovering from the prior celebrations than as a time of penance.
The second thing though I think is the real importance. If we do not overreact before and after, if we can mediate our compulsive over-indulgence, then the time can be a great time of reflection and possibility. If you do chose to make an honest abstinence from something, then why not replace that with offerings to the less fortunate or to a worth cause. If you choose to not have your daily Starbucks injection, why not take that money and accumulate it and make a donation to your favorite charity such as Habitat for Humanity or Friends of New Orleans or the Red Cross?
Also, keep a diary or even a blog during this time to record your feelings. You may go through times of desire, temptation, self-doubt, and triumph. What is also very interesting is what happens when the time is over. Do you go back to your old habits? Have you broken a habit permanently? Or is it just back to business as usual. All of these are very personal questions with no right or wrong answer. They are questions that only you can answer and only if you take the time to place value in self-discovery.