Giving up: not just for “things” anymore

So for those who follow the Catholic or Christian calendars, today is Ash Wednesday.  The day after Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).  The day which begins the 40 days of reflection and self-denial leading up to the re-birth of Christ and hunts for Easter eggs.  Or, per Wikipedia: “The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

OR, per any website willing to tap into religion to promote their own self interests in the theme of “Healthy Living”: It is the day to renew those vows from your New Year’s resolution!  Time to make that dedicated return to the gym and fight those calories and Be Healthy for Jesus!

Yeah.  I have been through many a Lent where what I chose to give up was some food item which, in all honesty, I didn’t even crave or eat that often.  OH, sure.  I’ll give up candy for Jesus for 40 days!  *Internal mental snicker.  The fools!  I never even eat candy!*  Or, giving up junk foods or eating over a certain number of calories or….I don’t know, giving up pounds of weight for the sake of self-denial?  Sounds kinda strange put that way but is what it all boils down to… instead of a pious rite of denying the self, of reflecting upon religion and life and GIVING to OTHERS, thinking outwardly of spreading love; folks (like myself) would instead focus inward, denying sustenance to the self without giving to others, with really the only true goal of being a smaller vessel of worship at the end of 40 days.

Instead of giving up a favorite (or not) food item, if you really feel like joining in the pious rite of self-denial this year, consider some options which might more accurately reflect the spirit of the intended 40 day period of “giving up”.

For instance, consider instead of a no-carb fast, the “Carbon Fast“:  “sacrificing a lightbulb, or higher temperature on the thermostat? Maybe finally spurning plastic bags for reusable organic cotton totes? As many of the Christian faith begin Lent on Wednesday, one option — the “carbon fast” — could be as basic as unplugging your cellphone charger when not in use.”

Or perhaps you could take a page from the book of my own local pastor who suggested that for 40 days we each give up complaining.  Consider how enormous that task might be.  Could you do it for a day?  For a week?  For 40 whole days could you get through and instead of complaining look to the positive?

So I task you with giving up the traditional meanings of “Giving Up” that you may come to feel these 40 days are meant to represent. If you are finding yourself surrounded by these messages of “giving up” to benefit you with a supposedly 40 day thinner body but equally miserable spirit; consider ways in which you might “Give Up” to the benefit of others instead.  Give up saying and thinking harsh words to yourself and about others behind their backs.  Give up time to a cause you find worthy.  Give up some of the self-loathing with which you treat yourself day-in and day-out and think about a world in which everyone could do the same.  Give up thinking about life as merely the continual press of minutes during which you must always be thinking about the next count of calories and how you can lessen them to lessen yourself in size.

You are certainly all welcome to your own interpretations of the Lenten season and the meaning of true self-denial.  For me though I feel that the good Lord (or Jesus for that matter) does not care if you’ve decided to take 40 days to stop eating white rice or cheese doodles or bubble gum.  To me the entire reason for the season is to take a moment (or 40 days of moments) to see how much of an effect simple positive actions (giving time, energy, love to others) can have on your own spirit and that of those around you.  And as I prepare for my own contemplations of these next weeks before my absolutely favorite holiday of the year I wonder if you will take a moment yourself to think that maybe this year giving up on giving up “things” (especially those designed to inflict mental anguish upon you in the form of dieting) could be the best feeling you’ve had in a while.

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10 thoughts on “Giving up: not just for “things” anymore

  1. This is a beautiful post and how true! We so often give up something that really won’t matter to us but if we do take time to give up what does matter then our longing and our remembering cause us to focus on the true purpose of lent. Thanks for the reflection.

    • I’m happy to provide reflection! And I agree that the longing and remembering of true giving does give a better chance to focus our thoughts more outwards during Lent instead of so internally.

  2. Wonderful post. Another way to look at Lent, which was totally new to me, is to take something on rather than giving something up: do something for 40 days that will enrich your life and the lives of others. That will probably involve having to get rid of something negative in your life, any way, in order to make room for something new and good. My pastor was encouraging taking something on last year, rather than giving something up, and it really helped me to think about Lent in a different way.

    I’ve struggled with the idea of fasting the last few years (this year, being nine months pregnant going into Lent, it’s moot, since it wouldn’t be safe or feasible for me to fast anyway). I think it’s a worthwhile spiritual practice, but in our culture, I think it would be incredibly difficult for anybody, especially a woman, to fast with truly spiritual motives. I know that it would be for me, at least. We’ve made “fasting” into such a secular virtue, and self-denial when it comes to food something we’re supposed to do all the time if we’re a moral and decent human being, that I think it may not be the best place to turn for something to “give up” for many people.

    • That will probably involve having to get rid of something negative in your life, any way, in order to make room for something new and good.

      I have generally found that when I add something new I often don’t notice what gets dropped. Instead I drop something (or some things, or do something less frequently) that’s already such a low priority I don’t realize it’s what got dropped.

    • As a lover of language I love the twist of considering the season as one in which you “do something” instead of “give up”. Brings a whole new slant to the practice I think!

  3. My fiance and I aren’t Christians at all, but your post made me think about ending habits that aren’t good for us. Alden always apologizes for things that he didn’t cause, he responds to “I’ve had the most terrible day!” with, “I’m sorry.” Those are some of the most oft used words in his vocabulary. The problem isn’t the words but the fact that he is taking blame for it onto his shoulders. The worst part is that he works at an airport, so he is constantly apologizing to frustrated travelers. So by the time he gets home, his shoulders are stooped with the weight of this guilt. So after reading this post, I called him up and asked him to try for the next month not to apologize for any problems he didn’t actually cause. And I’m gonna do it too, because now I’m doing it because he does it. So I’m hoping it will make him value himself more if he isn’t always apologizing.

    • Oh Sara A I love that idea. I find myself apologizing all the time and didn’t think about how much it starts to add to the oppressive feeling of a day until you noted this here. In fact I was about to say “I’m sorry” about these habits just now. Geesh! I hope you two see a wonderful positive change by taking on this mental gear switch!

      • I’m hoping it will make a positive change, but it’s so hard to express sympathy in this culture for a bad experience without an apology. So we’re going to brainstorm different ways to respond to other people’s negative experiences or to deny someone something. I also work with the general public and I find that when someone is telling me of a bad experience they are looking for validation that it was a bad experience. There are other ways to validate the other person such as saying “That really sucks” or “How unfortunate!” that don’t accept blame.

        • “How unfortunate” does sound good. As a librarian I think I need to find a few phrases to stock up on as well for expressing concern and understanding of patrons’ troubles without taking on that blame burden by apologizing all over the place. You’ve given me some interesting mental food to chew for a while here! “That sounds awful” might be another good one to keep for in general uses but I’m still trying to think of one for working with the public. Mayhaps something along the lines of “I understand your frustration….” hmmm

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