In this post-Christian era of dwindling church participation, is Lent still relevant? Is there a reason to observe it at all?
I’ve come to think of “Lent” not as a church-prescribed season, but rather a six-week time of self-improvement. The days of giving up chocolate, alcohol, or some other pleasure simply because the church says so are long gone. But most of us still have bad habits and “issues” that could stand improvement. In a time when increasing numbers of people struggle with obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, many of could use “adjustments” to what we put in our bodies. And most of us know, deep in our hearts, that this means permanent changes, not just a short- term diet.
It’s hard to make long-lasting, permanent changes. Give up all sweets? Forever? Or all future purchases of clothes we don’t need? Or what about that daily glass of wine we enjoy? Never again? Yet these are the habits that damage or destroy our health, empty our wallets, and eventually end in regret years or decades down the road. These habits creep up on us, starting with a rare or occasional “treat” and ending up as a de facto addiction we can’t kick.
Except we can. Just not all at once. You have to start small. You have to give yourself a do-able goal. And that’s where Lent, as a discipline, comes in. You take on six weeks of behaving yourself. You can do that. You don’t have to commit to giving up junky food or wasteful spending for the rest of your life or even the next year. (But I’ll tell you a secret. Once you get to the end of the six- week period, you find you don’t really need those treats and luxuries as much as you did before. You’ve made a good start towards kicking your habits, and you don’t particularly want to go back.)
And what does this have to do with spirituality? You are what you do on a regular basis. If you’re fixated on fatty, high sugar foods, that’s called gluttony. If you spend your money on expensive cars, fashion, or luxury vacations, and that’s what you work for, that’s called idolatry. And if you’re really honest with yourself, that’s not who you really are. That’s not you were meant to do in this world.
You were meant to be the best version of yourself possible. That makes it possible for you to accomplish all the things that are really important to you, to your family, and to your community. If you want to call that “good healthy and wholeness,” you can call it that. And if you still believe in Christian concepts, it’s called “growing into the full stature of Christ.”
Whatever you call it, humans are meant to strive towards a better tomorrow, both for themselves and for the world. And in an ever-challenging world, a season of self-improvement – a season of Lent – is more relevant now than ever.
Cynthia Coe is the author of Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us, a book on spirituality in the natural world, right where you live. Nature-based devotionals included in the back, perfect for Lenten devotionals. Available in the Kindle store and in paperback, included in Kindle Unlimited at this link.