So here we are again, Lent. In 2015 I wrote a blog titled, “Forty Days,” loosely connected to the Lenten season. I was raised and grew up in the Catholic faith tradition and was relatively faithful to it until after college, when, during graduate school I immersed myself in a completely different religious experience in a very different Christian church. I liberated myself some ten years later and lived to tell the tale.
And so last year I was unexpectedly inspired to write an almost-daily blog for each of the forty days of Lent. If you search the postings on this site from February and March, 2015 you can read last year’s offerings. I am hoping to have the energy and discipline to spend the next 40 days or so writing about whatever occurs to me that might marginally be connected to things associated with this season, and, given the nature of the season, to Jesus and variously Christian kinds of things. I hope that doesn’t preclude some non-religious people or those who follow non-Christian faith traditions from reading these observations. They are generally secular in nature and hopefully offer thoughts and insights on a variety of themes.
So thank you for being willing to take this journey with me. And, if it abruptly ends before Easter (March 27), then you’ll know that my energy flagged and my commitment faded. Anyone who has followed me over the years will know that I wrote an almost daily gratitude blog for over 1,000 days (http://walkinyourpower.com/blog/), so if I bail before I reach 40, I hope I will be forgiven. And so, without further ado, welcome to The Next Forty Days.
“I am giving up chocolate for Lent.” I overheard someone telling their friend the other day. They were headed over to get paçzkis from the local bakery. Paçzki Day is the Polish equivalent of “Fat Tuesday”/Margi Gras and is widely celebrated in the Midwest US and around the world, and, of course, in Poland. The friend responded that they were giving up all social media for Lent–no Facebook, no Instagram, no nothing. Now that was a sacrifice, her friend was awed.
I remember giving things up for Lent, way back in the day. Wanting to make a real sacrifice that would make a significant difference in my life and the world around me, a few years ago I decided to give up swearing for Lent. One could suggest that a real Christian wouldn’t swear anyway, so wouldn’t have to give it up, but most of the people I know can curse up a storm and do so with regularity. Being that I don’t subscribe to a particular faith tradition, Christian or otherwise, I don’t really have to give anything up per se, but I decided that this year I would not only give up swearing for Lent, but also fussing at drivers I encounter on the roads, particularly on the daily commute to work. “Fussing” does not necessarily involve swearing but occasionally does, so in that sense I am offering up a two-fer. The “punishment” for my violating the swearing or fussing abstention is $.25 per incident collected in a jar to be donated to an appropriate charity at the end of Lent. By midday I had already amassed $1.25. And this is only the first day. It could be a long and expensive season.
But as I pondered this whole “giving up” thing, I also considered the concept of “adding in,” that is, not only should I give something up as a sacrifice going into the solemnity of the Lenten season, but that I should also add something to the world. I have worked hard over the years to be a relatively affirmative person, that instead of thinking terms of what I was not going to do or what I didn’t want to happen to focus on what I would do and what I did want to see happen. In the same way, for Lent, what if I don’t simply focus on what I am giving up as a sacrifice, but also think about what I am going to contribute to the world, what can I give even in the midst of sacrifice. I can give up cussing and fussing over the next 40-plus days, and that actually can improve the world around me just a little bit. But in addition to that, what can I add to the world, to someone’s world, to make it a bit brighter, a bit better, a bit kinder and gentler?
The world around us is filled with people who are suffering, who are in pain, who are lonely, sad, marginalized, depressed, etc. We each in our own ways have experienced our own pains and grief and trauma. During this season focused on sacrifice as Christians around the world prepare to commemorate and participate in the days leading up to the suffering and death of Jesus, rather than solely focusing on self-denial, fasting, and giving up, what would it be like to add a healthy dose of compassion, empathy, love, and care for those around us who might be struggling or suffering in their own right?
I am not a theologian and don’t know much about dogma and doctrines and histories and such. I do know what it feels like to suffer and to have someone show me compassion. And I have known what it feels like to give to others even in the midst of my own struggles and challenges. Is this not what Jesus did, during his three years of ministry and especially during those intense last few months before his suffering, crucifixion, and death? He gave of himself even knowing what was going to happen to him. Even in the midst of the most extreme of physical and mental anguish, he continued to reach out to others. Even as he sacrificed and “gave up” various forms of comfort, his focus remained on doing good, on helping everyone around him. Given that, I think I can perhaps accomplish more than simply not doing something like swearing or fussing at drivers, I can add more compassion, love, and care for others through acts of service or simple kindness.
It is night time here in the Eastern US time zone, and I, like many people am exhausted from the day’s many occurrences. As I lay my head on my pillow to take my rest I will continue to ponder how I can add as well as give up. My prayer is that each day I will find ways to give and perhaps have the energy to share the journey with you over the next 40 days. And so it goes.