Ash Wednesday: Late for Lent

Ash Wednesday: Late for Lent March 10, 2011

The Baptists I grew up around did not participate in Lent.  The Baptists I knew and loved didn’t give up anything: football, fried chicken or friends.

The only references I heard to Lent in those days involved either the dryer or a person’s belly button. And yes, I do know that is spelled L-I-N-T, not LENT.

No one ever really explained why Baptists didn’t participate in Lent, but if I had to venture a guess, I suppose it’s because Lent was something those who belonged to the High Church needed. Lent gave the Methodists, Episcopalians and Catholics reason to sober up. Baptists, on the other hand, could have used a glass of wine or a shot of tequila.

My kids are amused that I talk about Lent at all these days.

“We never practiced that growing up,” one of my daughters pointed out to me.

“That’s because I was raised up Baptist. I didn’t know anything about it when you were growing up,” I replied. (What mother in her right mind wouldn’t take advantage of a season where children are encouraged to sacrifice for a change?)

I didn’t bother to mention to my ill-bred daughter that I thought being the mother of four children demanded I practice Lent year-round. I was always giving up something, most often it was sleep. And money. I can remember one particularly stressful year when I didn’t buy one new piece of clothing all year long. Not a shirt or a pair of shoes. Nothing. That was the year of Food Stamps and WIC.  Even so, I wasn’t hungry or homeless, or doing without in any real sense of the word sacrifice.

To be honest, talking about Lent in terms of  sacrifice makes me feel tawdry, like a hooker playing dress up with Kate Middleton’s cast-offs. It just feels wrong. I don’t know if it’s because Protestants have come to the Lent ritual late, or if it’s just me and my quirky-eye view of things.

Maybe everyone around me has been making sacrifices all these years and I’m just too self-absorbed to have noticed it.

Shame on me.

But I suspect that the reason I feel the way I do is because Lent has become the uber-Christian thing to do. Hipsters everywhere are giving up Facebook, Twitter, Starbucks and tattoos, all in a effort to become more conscious of God and to prepare themselves for Easter.

It’s sort of like the couple who, after living together for two years, up decide to practice celibacy for the six weeks leading into their wedding.

Whoa buddy. Big Whoop.

The cynic in me is humored by all of this “sacrificing” we do.

It occurs to me that if I was really committed to this whole notion of Lent,  what I ought to be sacrificing is my cynical nature. I should try to find ways to quit being so critical. I ought to practice saying kind things about Bernie Madoff and Dick Cheney and prosperity gospel preachers.

But whenever I tell people I’m going to give up a bad attitude for Lent and from here on out only say good things about others, they look at me with an eyebrow cocked, their head pulled back and chin tucked in.

As if they don’t believe a word I’m saying.

Maybe it’s true that I don’t know diddle-squat about Lent and the Protestants who practice it, but one thing I do know — this world could get along  quite  nicely with a few less cynics and a few more Baptists wine-makers.

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  • Love this!
    I’ve been vacillating between … “Lent has become the uber-Christian thing to do” so I’m not doing it, not giving up a darn thing for the next 40 days … and feeling guilty for not getting on the Lent bandwagon (what a bad Christian I must be)

    But now you have me thinking maybe I have an attitude that needs to go … I’ll ponder that with some good red wine tonight.

    I assume you’ve seen this, but just incase you haven’t …

  • Karen Spears Zacharias

    Ahhh, Janet, I had not. Thanks for sharing.

  • Debbie

    So well said – I have no clue what lent is all trendy for either and I don’t understand why people do such a thing. It may be cool to give up those things for forty days yet I am not so sure ‘drawing near’ to God gets done either. If someone hasn’t been doing it for the other 325 days of the year.

    Anyway – I love the way you see things – don’t ever give up your gift.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Love that line about 325 other days of the year, Debbie.

  • I am Methodist and I must admit that I usually give up Lent for Lent. I haven’t practiced it much at all – ever. This year, though, I thought I’d give this thing a try and give up electricity. Only thing is, nobody will cooperate with me. Everywhere I go – they’re using electricity. I decided to forsake cream and sugar in my coffee instead. I’ve got to do SOMETHING to make me popular.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Gary You are always popular here.

  • Debbie Derrick

    A Catholic friend of mine was wondering what to give up for Lent, I suggested she put a couple of dollars into a jar for the 40 days and when Lent was over she could donate to a homeless shelter or a charity.

  • Layne

    Lent, like any quasi-spiritual or spiritual discipline is easily trivialized. Jesus talked about prayer as a “private closet” kind of discipline – not a public – “look at me – at my spiritual gianthood.” I believe that fasting can be an excellent spiritual discipline that can help us focus more clearly and intentionally on what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. Well done (in the spirit of Jesus’ admonitions about prayer), the practice of Lent can be a similar vehicle that can facilitate our being more faithful disciples.
    Having been born into a fundamentalist Baptist preacher’s home, Lent was “Catholic” and to be avoided. However, as I have grown in my understanding of and appreciation of the disciplines of the faith (even though I struggle to be faithful in practicing these disciplines), I find them to be worthy of my attention. In my early years, we expressed our faith in popular Lenten fashion – we expressed our spirituality by what we abstained from doing – such as drinking, dancing, smoking, chewing – or going with girls who did these kinds of things. One question I ask myself during this season is not so much, “What do I need to give up or relinquish?” – although there’s plenty of that I need to do in order to be a more faithful disciple. – but rather “What do I need to assume or take up in order to be a more faithful disciple?” – Just thinking…

  • According to Matthew 4:2, Jesus fasted 40 days, 40 nights. THEN, famished and weak, he met ALL EVIL face-to-face. It came in a condition of weakness, not strength. Moses went up to the mountain 40 days w/o food, only the presence of God. Elijah went into the wilderness and lived on the strength of his last meal for 40 days. They both knew the legend of Noah and his family and the onslaught of being tossed about after 40 days of rain (and nights).

    In Reformation times, the practice of doing penance went seriously out of whack. The Basilica of St. Peter in Rome was essentially built on the fundraising efforts of paying a monetary sum as a demonstration of true contrition. But the church detoured from being discipling agent to dipsensing agent. Along the way, a very important and beneficial practice got lost or disarmed. The step back to consider the seriousness of one’s sins and doing something different in life as a reminder, that got turned into the purchase of forgiveness–with advance ticket sales offered for a nice price.

    No coach I know would consider scrapping the entire practice of taking a time-out. The team needs it. He/she needs it. And so do we. It’s more than our little foibles, the unkind word here and there, the lustful thought, the alms not given, the prayer not said that consitutes our sin.

    It is our whole condition. Our whole broken relationship with God and with each other. As my church says in corporate confession, “We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves…” This rift is not repairable by self-help, a six-week diet, or a makeover at the spa. It is by the grace of God. Grace is a very dramatic story. It never hurts to take a time-out. Any discipline or ritual that serves as a mnemonic device for that time-out time is helpful. It can open the heart and mind just like prayer.

    And I think sometimes the best prayers we can ever pray are not the ones that ask for what we don’t have. They may be those that for once do an honest job of saying who we are, what we are, what is–without a pre-fab answer in mind.

    We all need time for that.

  • Ol’ Sponsor

    Thanks go to both Layne and Roger for pointed and thoughtful comments. As all practices of piety, we humans are prone to focus on our actions (and comparatively those of others) rather than what is suppose to be the true object of our veneration. If a ritual or practice leads us into a greater reverential intimacy with the Creator-Sustainer of the universe, then there is clear spiritual value. The grave danger, unfortunately inherent in all institutionalized practices, is that the rite becomes either an idol or a trivial norm of that cultural group. In this Lenten season, may we by whatever method grow in our worship of Him by whose strips we receive eternal healing from all the sin that binds us.