I’ve been pretty public about the fact that I’m an ex-Catholic. And of all the things about the Catholic Church that I might miss, Lent is most assuredly NOT on that list. Half the time, my birthday would fall in Lent (my birthday is Feb. 14), and while my parents were as cool as possible on the day of my birth, usually the next day I was expected to abstain from sweets or whatever I was giving up that year (usually it was sweets – most of us in the house were trying to lose weight, so maybe not the noblest of choices, but there it is). I have seen a couple of my fellow bloggers post about choosing to do Lent, and it’s all I can do to restrain myself from asking them, “Why would you observe Lent [i.e. punish yourself] voluntarily? Do you hate yourself that much?” (See what I did there?)
But since I am an adult now, and for the most part a rational person (except when I’m not), I am in fact capable of looking at this issue more dispassionately. In other words, is there any benefit to observing Lent? My own initial, uneducated position would be that it would probably depend on the person doing the observing. If you are inclined to indulge yourself a lot, then maybe a little self-restriction would be good for you. If, on the other hand, you mostly deny yourself, then maybe you should skip Lent and think about showing some love to yourself. You know, everything in moderation.
That’s where I start from. Now let’s see where the research takes us.
[One hour spent doing research on the Internet]
Okay, let’s resume.
I found two articles (on Time and Science 2.0) that mention that observing Lent, specifically giving something up, is a good way to exercise willpower. And that’s great, but that’s what you call side benefits. This article makes it clear that that is not the real reason you observe Lent:
Whatever you decide to fast from, remember, as Steven Clark likes to say: “Lent is more than a diet.” Lent is about spiritual results, not material ones. So, while losing a few pounds may be a nice side benefit, all fasting should be done for God’s glory and spiritual growth.
The same article also says:
The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, spiritual growth, conversion, and simplicity.
And this article from The Federalist says this:
It is a time when Christians mourn over their sin (called repentance)…
In other words, lots of mea culpas, Acts of Contrition, and generally concentrating on the natural sinful state of humanity.
There are other ways to work on your willpower. The American Psychological Association has this to say on the subject of willpower. If you search for “willpower” on Amazon (in the Books category), you will get 1,358 results.
But you knew I wasn’t going to come down in favor of Lent, didn’t you? I think my biases are pretty obvious at this point.
However, if you want to encounter a couple of other different viewpoints about Lent, you may want to read this article and this one, both from The Guardian. The first one brings up a good point about the validity of the sacrifice when you get to choose what you’re sacrificing, and the second one talks about secular morality in derogatory tones (so not sure I agree with that one, but hey, your mileage may vary and all that).
So maybe I’m stuck forever viewing Lent through the (dark) colored lenses of my past experiences. That’s okay; unless I go back (and why would I, when I have found a faith and gods that value me as a person?), it doesn’t make much of a difference.
What about you? Do you observe Lent? Are you a non-Christian observing Lent, and can you shed some light on why you do it? Please leave your comments below.