I had some fun on Tuesday, when, upon the umpteen hundredth time I was asked what I was giving up for Lent, I spluttered "self-denial."
It was only meant as a joke, but the joke wouldn't leave me alone ... and the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was actually a point tucked away in there in the back of the wardrobe behind the cargo pants, moon boots and Keep On Truckin’ T-shirt.
It feels just a little trivial to me that for six weeks – in the name of their faith, yet – people give something up, when more often than not that something was never very important to begin with.
Chocolate? Reality TV? Even (gasp!) Facebook? Would my life, would the world, really be better for that in 40 days, or will I just sate the accumulated cravings in the fourth week of April and return to business as usual?
I’m just not sure I see the value; from my personal point of view, I fail to to see how one is helping bring about the kingdom of God by not eating Pop Tarts, and if you have some punishment/reward system in your head that suggests you’ll go to heaven because you temporarily stop playing Angry Birds, there’s at least the slimmest of chances your theology has a short circuit. I’m reasonably sure it doesn’t make the world a better place, either, though I might be persuaded to reconsider in the case of “Real Housewives.”
Anyway, here’s a thought: how about adding something for Lent? This works regardless of your particular creed or faith tradition, and works every bit as well if you have none.
Listen to someone whose opinion you find uncongenial or even loathsome; just listen and see that that person realizes you’re listening.
Go out of your way to help someone when there’s no gain for you.
Go make something better in the community, even if you think it is really small. You’re wrong: no positive change is really small. There are no small things.
Even if you’re not a believer, you’ve just added to the sum total of good in the world we all live in (and with), which can only be a good thing.
If you are a person of faith, it’s a commandment, it’s a mitzvah, it’s doing unto the least of these. And which of us shouldn’t bother doing that?
As a baseball nut since the age of seven, I guess it’s inevitable that I would think of Lent as Spring Training for Easter. So, not that I’d ever risk my superannuated slacker image by admitting to actually doing something – I’m going to try to step up to the plate, take a few practice swings, and face live pitching, because Opening Day is just around the corner.
John Ford is a writer based in Connecticut.