Wednesday, February 13, 2013


(This time around, I'm just re-publishing my Lenten post of last year because, you know, sometimes I'm a little busy...)

 “No, we’re not Catholic,” we tell our friends, “but, it’s true, we often observe Lent.”  Some people think this is kind of nuts.  Admittedly, it seems odd, but I was reading this article on the science of self denial by Jeffrey Kluger of Time today and I feel like it offered some insight into why the observance of holidays like Lent can be beneficial for those of both the religious and secular persuasions (and to some degree explains why we have taken to observing it ourselves.)   It was about how this season is not only one of spiritual penance, piety, and submission but also one which leads to the development of impulse control and, ultimately, can lead to greater self confidence and even increased happiness.  Kluger writes:
When it comes to good-time holidays, Lent does not rank very high. Nor do Ramadan or Yom Kippur, of course, and no wonder. They are all about saying no to something (or many things) you love. Where's the egg nog and holiday joy in all that? But we observe these less-than-festive celebrations all the same -- and we have good reason to do so. There are hidden benefits to so much ritualized self-denial...
   Lent has traditionally been a time of penance and abstention, a time to contemplate the sufferings and temptations of Christ as he fasted for forty days in the wilderness.  Historically, this was a time when certain Christians removed all animal flesh, dairy and eggs from their diets and gave renewed focus to prayer and charity. 

   Neither Ryan or I grew up observing this kind of asceticism, but there’s something about the Lenten season that has always appealed to us.  It’s the focus on temperance and self sacrifice and the turning inward toward contemplation and stillness that just seems appropriate for this time of year.  (Also, my willpower could really use a whole season dedicated to its strengthening any time.)

Every time an observer of Lent craves -- and resists the lure of -- a forbidden indulgence is a tiny reminder of a commitment made...  Neurologists and behavioral psychologists generally think of willpower as what's known as "domain general," which means that the more you practice it to control one behavior -- say, overeating -- the more it starts to apply itself to other parts of your life like exercising more or drinking less...

   Additionally, there’s something in knowing that there is a whole community of folks out there struggling to strengthen their will with me.  Through the experience of abstention, I think, we all come to foster gratitude for the plenty that we regularly enjoy.  With our modern culture’s tendency toward overindulgence, many of us live in varying states of excess, almost always giving in to our impulses.  We’re quite attached to food, drink, media, comfort, pretty things and modern conveniences of every kind.  It’s easy to forget that all over the world (and even in our own local communities) people struggle just to survive.  Giving a vice or a pleasure up by choice, it seems to me, helps to strengthen something within us and also connects us, in a small way, to the greater community in which we live.  

   For the children in our lives (who are forever living in a world of imitation), I think the Lenten mood helps cultivate a feeling of reverence and gratitude as well.  Who doesn't need more of that, right?  Despite religious affiliations (or lack thereof), maybe it's not so strange that folks embrace this season of sacrifice and all it has to offer. 

   "Happy Lent" surely isn't the proper salutation here but... I'd like to wish that the spirit of this season rests untroubled in your hearts.  Happy renunciation to all?   


  1. What an excellent post! I was brought up catholic, attended a catholic school and was taught by nuns. We 'had' to observe lent, and it always involved giving up chocolate, which we then got in abundance at Easter! I stopped doing this at about age 10 or 12 and have never given it a moments thought until this year. I was even discussing it with my husband last night but he said 'no not giving up anything'.
    You have just inspired me to participate this year. Not quite sure what to give up? I'm not much of a chocoholic so I guess I'll have to choose something more 'grown up' now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

    1. I'm glad the post inspired you Emma! We talk a lot about what we'll choose to give up and some of those things are less material. Included in our abstentions this year are Criticizing Others (aloud and internally) and Complaining.
      Since my husband works in a grocery store and often encounters the difficulties of folks who are gluten free, he has also chosen to give up gluten (as a way to understand and have compassion for those who have to live with that difficulty all the time). Chocolate is good too (a particular challenge for me as well) but there are lots of ways we can think about what to give up that have little to do with what we consume I think. And they can give us some great insight into our own hearts and minds as we struggle (and likely fail over and over) during the 40 days time.
      Best of luck (if that's the right offering?) during this season. I'd love to hear how it goes for you and thank you for sharing your story :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...