Ashes: On Lent and Choice

I have always struggled with the concept of Lent.

In theory, I’m a huge fan of a 40-day retreat leading up to the Spring and Summer. It allows us to become thoughtful as we end the busy holiday and New Year season, and ensure we can reset our intentions (in any given context) around the new year. It’s a period to look inward, question ourselves, and push ourselves to grow as people and as Christians.

Still, Lent also comes with a whole host of rules that even non-Catholics question. Why am I fasting today? What if I have an athletic event that day? Why can’t I eat meat? What counts or doesn’t count? If I eat meat Friday can I get away with being vegetarian on Sunday instead?

I struggled with these questions because, honestly, I don’t really think God cares that much if I eat meat or not today, or whether or not I fast. If I ate a cheeseburger right now but still tried to generally be a good person, I don’t think I’d get kicked out at the pearly gates when my time came. I don’t think that would happen to anyone else either.

As I got older, though, and returned to my faith a few years ago, I realized that I wasn’t becoming involved in Lenten practices out of fear of my Father, but rather as a thoughtful choice to better myself as a person. Lent has nothing to do with “having” to give things up, it’s a choice to let go of things in your life that you may not need, or create some healthy distance from parts of ourselves we have perhaps become too indulgent in. Lent is the opportunity to actively step back and re-evaluate what you actually need, what you can let go of, and what you can do to enrich your life.

In addition, though, Lent is the opportunity to welcome new, more giving parts of ourselves. I’ve often enjoyed hearing from priests like Fr. James Martin SJ, who invited us last year to add more kindness to our lives this Lenten season. I was also happy to hear that Pope Francis encouraged us to give up indifference towards our fellow humans.

So, this year I have a few things I’m giving up privately. I’m hoping to become a healthier person physically and emotionally, so I’m using this season to work towards that.

I’m also, though, planning on donating to and shouting out a different charity each week. I struggled with this a bit– I don’t want to come off as boastful (and, let’s be honest, I’m a teacher– I’m not giving a lot of money). Still, I want to encourage others to find charity this season, Christian or not, especially in times where resistance and power are sometimes financial.

So, this week, I’m donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center. As someone who has benefited immensely from Teaching Tolerance and been involved with the amazing work they do. As we fight to ensure equity and safety for so many students, the work they do to educate teachers and students is essential. I encourage you to send a donation their way.

 

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