Yeah… in lay terms, the practice of “giving something up” for the “40” days (it’s really more; Sundays aren’t counted) between Ash Wednesday (the day after Fat Tuesday / Mardi Gras) and Easter.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Lent is meant to “prepare men for the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ.” Wikipedia describes it as “the preparation of the believer — through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence.”
That’s pretty heavy. (I mean, “the preparation of the believer?” Yikes.) And I guess that’s not too surprising, since the Christians – particularly the Catholics – are, overall, not really the positive, party animals of the religious realm. (I can say this – I was raised as one.)
But while the idea conventionally comes from Catholicism, its application is not confined by it.
Everyone can adopt Lent as their own.
If you strip away the Christian connotations (sacrilegious, perhaps, but hear me out), I think you’re still left with something pretty damn legit.
“[Lent] is time for introspection, mindfulness, a deeper connection to our spiritual nature and letting go of things that do not serve us.” – Kathy Gottberg, Lent…6 Powerful Ways Believers and Non-Believers Can Benefit
Introspection. Letting go of things that do no serve us. In my mind, that’s not really about religion, per say. It doesn’t need to be, anyway, because, fundamentally, this whole thing is really about the human spirit. (Religion is always just the avenue for much bigger things.)
It’s about becoming a better person.
Okay. But why call it “Lent” if you’re not Catholic?
Oh, I don’t know. You don’t have to. But I do. And I think a lot of other non-Christians do as well, mostly because people thrive in contexts that:
1. Align our values with like-minded others… or, in the very least,
2. Offer “common diction” with which to discuss them. (“Lent” comes prepackaged with meaning, so we don’t have to explain as much when talking about what we’re doing.)
If you don’t like it, then use a different term – or use no term at all. You don’t owe anything to anybody – in fact, you don’t have to talk about it at all, if you don’t want to. If you would rather approach it differently, then do.
What Lent is not about:
Suffering or “beating yourself up” – tons of Catholics would probably disagree with me here – the Catholics love their guilt – but I really argue that Lent is not about focusing on the negative. It’s about self-improvement through self-discipline and self-awareness, not self-punishment. It’s about bettering the human spirit – namely, your own.
Strengthening will power or “badassery” Yeah, okay – “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” True in general, definitely true here, and a valid benefit of “doing Lent.” But even so, it shouldn’t be the primary focus. This isn’t simply about “toughing it out.” It’s bigger than that.
“Comparing notes” – if a Catholic gives up chocolate and doesn’t tell anyone about it, is it still Lent? Yep. Most definitely. In fact, one can even go vegan without broadcasting it. This all really shouldn’t be “for show.” You can quit smoking, start meditating, stay sober, go raw vegan, forgive, repent, and/or abstain – all without having to tell anybody.
What Lent is about: spring-cleaning the human spirit
The word “Lent” fundamentally means “spring” – much like German’s Lenz and Dutch’s lente – and is derived from the Germanic root for long, as the days (hours of sunlight) lengthen during this time of year. At its core, it is a time of rejuvenation and regrowth.
a.) Simplicity, focus, and appreciation
It has to do with minimalism; focusing on necessities over indulgences; gaining appreciation for the things in life that actually matter. These are the upsides.
In order to focus more on one thing, one must also learn to focus less on other things… because our lives are increasingly complex, something has to change in order for us to get out of the continual spin cycle of life… Giving up something that is a regular part of your life… allows you to focus more.” – Todd Peperkorn, Why Lent Should Matter to Everyone.
Lent is a tremendous opportunity to slim down your life and your luxuries; gain an increased overall well-being; restore focus on what matters, and ultimately restore a deep appreciation for whatever it is that we are giving up – and our lives overall.
b.) Emotional well-being for you and others
It’s about stripping out all of the baggage and beefing ourselves – and others – up with the good; doing away with negative emotions and projections, and emphasizing the positive ones in their place:
We can weigh ourselves down with a lot if we’re not careful; a big part of Lent is realigning ourselves with what’s actually important, fixing what’s wrong, and soothing what’s hurt. Grieve if you need to grieve. Apologize if you have wronged someone, sink into repentance for as long as it makes sense… and then move on and unburden yourself. Lean into the good things.
Ultimately, Lent is about learning to live a better existence – working toward “Life’ing” more successfully.