On the way home from work, I called my daughter – a junior in college – just to check in. “Mom,” she said, “I’m sitting here with Carson and she’s trying to figure out what to give up for Lent. Any ideas?” Without hesitation, I replied “Sex, alcohol, or cursing.” She laughed. “Yeah, we were just talking about giving up cursing.”
What on earth possessed me to say “sex, alcohol, or cursing”? Was that even an appropriate response? Frankly, I’m disappointed in myself. My Jewish daughter and I hardly know what Lent is and certainly aren’t qualified to have an opinion or offer advice. To make matters worse, what little I do know, I learned from the movie 40 Days and 40 Nights in which Josh Harnett stars as a guy who vows to remain celibate during the 40 days of Lent. Oy!
As I’m prone to do, I decided to do some research. Wikipedia explains that Lent, taking into consideration practices of multiple denominations, occurs during the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter. For the observer, it traditionally is a time for “prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self denial” to acknowledge the suffering that Jesus Christ endured prior to his death. More specifically, these practices are designed to enable the believer to get closer to God, to show more compassion or kindness to others, and to rid oneself of vices or luxuries that inhibit the attainment of an authentic, moral, and spiritual self.
I don’t know much about the ideology and practices of Christianity, but I certainly understand – through a Jewish lens – the objectives and values espoused by the observance of Lent.
Judaism teaches that “The world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah, and G’milut Chasadim” (Avot 1:2). These pursuits – studying God’s laws and values, worshipping/working on behalf of God, and performing deeds of lovingkindness – provide the basis on which Jews build their relationships with God, one another, and the world. Jews are supposed to engage in these endeavors year-round and these activities are supposed to be part of an ongoing way of living.
While the 40 days of Lent are not nearly as many as 365 days, they certainly are enough time to develop new habits and patterns of behaviors that could permanently better the individual or even humankind.
So, Carson, please allow me to try again. Lent doesn’t have to be about giving up something for 40 days. It can be about gaining something – short-term or long-term – that will help you become a better and a more complete person; a person who cares about herself, who cares about others, and who cares about the values and expectations of her faith. How will you use the time — and the spirit — of Lent to take advantage of this awesome opportunity?