I don’t talk about religion here much. It’s a complex topic that I am not fully confident in navigating. I was raised in a very conservative religious household, but as I venture further into adulthood I have adopted very different values than the ones I was raised with.
I don’t know entirely where I stand on what I believe and what that means for my life. I do still find it important to engage with my spirituality, to study religion, even practice to a certain extent. But I don’t know to what end, what point. How much am I doing because I would feel too guilty to just completely not do something? Or am I practicing things still because I really believe in it?
Today is Ash Wednesday. This marks the start of the season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter. It is a season of reflection and preparation before celebration. The idea is to replicate Jesus’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. And that all starts today.
I’ve always found the intention behind Ash Wednesday to be quite poetic. Honestly, I think Lent can be beautiful, whether you are Christian or not. This idea that you spend five weeks reflecting, looking outward, being intentional. I am a big fan of reflection. And I think that this can be a great opportunity to seek betterment that has meaning.
But the reality of how a lot of Christians end up participating Lent isn’t my favorite. The idea is that you are supposed to fast from something, to suffer and deprive, just like Jesus. To better understand his sacrifice. But in practice, Lent really just becomes the Christian fad diet season. I’m giving up sugar for Jesus! I am giving up carbs for Jesus! I am giving up soda for Jesus! There are even trendy Christian diets you can do during this time, like the “Daniel Fast” (Chris Pratt just did this one, btws).
And it just always bugged me. Like if you want to go on a diet, fine go on a diet. But saying you are doing it “for Jesus” always bugged me. You aren’t giving anything real up, you aren’t suffering, you aren’t looking beyond yourself by giving up coffee for five weeks.
Years ago, I had a youth group leader who shared my grievances with the attitude a lot of Christians took towards Lent and the Christian Fad Diet Season. And she had a suggestion to help reframe the sentiment in our minds. Lent didn’t need to be about giving something up necessarily, it could also be about adding something to your life. Ad something every day that brings you outside of yourself.
And I really took that to heart.
Again, I don’t know where I stand on this or that and what it all means. But I do know that I think the world would be a lot better if we all spent some time intentionally thinking beyond ourselves. If we could all find intentional time to think of others, to help others, to really see others. And I have a deep respect for people who intentionally practice this.