“What are you giving up for Lent?”
At best, this is a deep question posed from one friend to another with the intention of prayerful support. At worst (and freakishly often), a tacky Christian pickup line. Most often, it falls somewhere in the middle, in the realm of pious buzzwords. And I bet you five bucks that when you first read that line you thought of either chocolate or Facebook.
I’ve avoided the obligatory “What are you giving up for Lent?” post on here for a few reasons. First, because it’s so….typical. And “typical” often means boring. Second, because I tried and I ended up with some horrendous writer’s block. Which often means whatever I’m attempting to write about (or rather, however I’m writing about it) is boring. But now, 12 days into the Lenten season, I find the topic on my mind. I started this season of the church with a mysterious and somewhat lofty Lenten discipline in mind: I was going to cover my hair for the 40 days. Yeah, I know. It’s one of those things that came to me while sitting in the back of the Adoration chapel about a month ago. “I should be covering my hair in a place so close to God’s presence” I thought. You should be covering your hair all the time during Lent, I felt in response. Freaked out, I prayed about it for a good week or two and asked the opinions of a few close confidantes. And, come Ash Wednesday, I donned a scarf that I’d worn off and on through college during similar times of feeling led to wear a head covering at church. It was terrifying, but I’ve found in my short 26 years that when God asks you to do something terrifying, there’s usually an equally terrific reason and reward. So I did. And, after a few days, I felt the calling weaken. Kind of like when Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed….God asked, I did it, just checking, now you’re off the hook. Such a visual and obvious display can easily fall trap to the “Look at how holy and pious I am” game, so one afternoon (admittedly while I was feeling very stressed about work and life in general, much less all the strange looks I was getting), I took off the scarf.
And I’ve been feeling a little weird about it ever since. Not because I’m stuck in a Pelagian type of “I HAVE to give something up for Lent or my salvation is null and void” situation, but because I genuinely want this Lent to be a time of renewal for me. To rededicate myself to God. To refocus. To take it as an opportunity. It’s such a beautiful time in the Church calendar, and I don’t want to let it get away–much in the same way that I didn’t want the rare sunny afternoon in Juneau, Alaska (when I lived there) to tick by without soaking up as much Vitamin D as possible. (The major difference being that, barring the Apocalypse, there will be Advent in a few months and, in a year, another Lent, whereas sunny days in Southeast Alaska are unpredictable and infrequent).
So I don’t know what I’m giving up for Lent. And it’s okay if you don’t know yet either. I am convinced that God is more concerned with us doing one thing late but intentionally than us doing something flippantly and on time. So I will keep praying about it, and in the meantime I’m keeping the words of St. John Chrysostom’s Easter sermon in mind:
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.