When I was about ten years old, I told my mother that I was giving up broccoli for Lent.
For as long as I can remember, I thought that “doing Lent” was about self-sacrifice. It was always presented to me as a vaguely masochistic endeavor of asceticism. Jesus made Himself miserable by going into the desert and away from food and shelter for forty days, and us good Catholics were supposed to do the same, to show Jesus that we loved Him, or wanted to be like Him, or that we acknowledged His suffering… or something. I guess.
It was never quite clear. The whole idea of Lent sounded monkish and mean-spirited to a kid like me, growing up in the 90s never wanting or lacking for anything truly important.
My pre-Vatican II Catholic relatives would always say things like, “I’m giving up candy for Lent.” Denial of pleasure with a side of I-have-a-bad-habit-and-here’s-my-Hail-Mary-pass-at-breaking-it-because-Jesus.
Or, in my case during the year of the broccoli, invent-an-excuse-not-to-eat-broccoli-because-Jesus. (In hindsight, I’m a lot less clever than I like to think I am.)
In those years, self-denial for the purpose of proving to God that we love Him was the way it was explained to me in church. I beg to differ.
Why 40 Days in the Desert?
Answer: Matthew 4:4.
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
Jesus went to the desert not for some good, old-fashioned starvation, but to model the motto of trusting in God for even the most basic things.
Food and water don’t determine the number of our days, not really.
There’s free will (standing in front of an oncoming train will drastically reduce the number of your days) but then there’s also what happens when you’ve got nothing left in this world to hold you up.
We trust a lot in things, us writers. Whether you’re a Christian or not, if you’re a religious person or an agnostic, or an atheist, you can probably admit that we depend on a multitude of things. I trust in coffee to get me going in the morning. We trust in the Internet to bring us inspiration. We trust in the flimsy scaffolding of our lives to provide us time, provide us a good mood, provide us the right headspace to work and live and make our work known.
Provide, provide, provide. Christians and atheists can both benefit from asking themselves, Who’s doing the providing?
Whether you celebrate Lent or not, now is a good time to consider all the ways in which you trust stuff to materialize your talents and dreams, and think about letting a few of them go. See if you can stand on your own.
Exodus Teaches It, Too
Once the Israelites were sprung from Egypt and busy wandering in the desert, God fed them each morning with something they called “manna.” It was basically snowy white, sweet puff pastry—and rained from the sky each morning with a catch. The Israelites were warned not to gather more manna than they could eat in a single day. Storing manna for hard times, or even for the next day, was prohibited, and excess manna would rot.
Exodus 16:4: Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.”
Trust, not food, was the point. Don’t hoard for yourself; trust that provision would be made for your tomorrows. I fail miserably at that on most days, as do most people.
That’s why we fast for Lent. We take the risk that we’ll get uncomfortable and that it will be fine, that we’ll discover how sustaining it is to be sustained by something other than food, and ultimately we are always provided with the strength to see the thing through.
So If You’re Thinking About Observing Lent This Year, Consider the Trust Thing
If you’re thinking about participating in Lent, or wondering about a different approach to it, try an activity that’s less about self-denial than about taking away a crutch of some sort, and extending yourself into the unknown. You were called to writing for a reason, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t all about holing up in a writing loft and churning out bestseller after bestseller.*
*Not that I’m implying all writers do this; rather, it’s my attempt to caricature the most selfish writer I can.
Could it be a writing crutch? Like checking your Amazon seller rankings every day, or your blog traffic every hour on the hour (guilty!)? Are you considering donating your writing time to a non-profit (animal shelters and other 501(c)(3) organizations always need grant writers!), but worry you’re not going to have enough time to write YOUR projects, or devote to your freelance career?
What are you trusting in, exactly? Numbers on a page that will supply your contentment for today (as long as they go the way you’re hoping)? Your limited bandwidth to do things other than make money?
Matthew 6:25-27 : “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
Hey, maybe right now is a good time to say, I’m going to try it anyway. It’ll be my 40 days in the desert. I’ll be doing something with faith that it’ll turn out.
What do you think? Are you “doing Lent” this year? Share it in the comments.