It started as just a funny little thing. One day I went out of my way to find out when Lent started. Put it on the calendar even. No big deal, just wanted to make sure I knew when that time of year started that I had to stop enjoying all of my favorite things for a month and a half. I thought it would probably be a good idea to know when it starts so I can at least brace myself.
This year something weird happened: I started to get kind of excited about Lent. I started looking forward to the opportunity to give up things I like for 40 solid days.
And that’s when I started to get worried. What’s happening to me? Am I dying?
Turns out, having good feelings about Lent coming didn’t make me sick in the head.
It might mean that I’m just simply ready for some change.
Love it or hate it, there should be something about Lent that bugs you, that rubs you the wrong way.
In fact, that’s kind of the whole point! If you actually prefer fish to red meat, then you should probably also give up something else on Fridays. If the basic requirements for fasting don’t really bother you, you should probably fast a little more. Lent should sting. Not kill you — but sting.
In other words, if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you’re doing it wrong.
So yeah, it was a little weird to find myself getting excited about Lent. But it made perfect sense once I thought about it.
Over the last year or so, there have been a few things in my life that I decided I wanted to change. Not groundbreaking, earth-shattering things, but small- to medium-sized things that I was convinced would have a big, positive effect on my life.
And I saw Lent as the perfect opportunity to change those things.
Vice → Virtue
For instance, I’d like to get in better shape. I picked up some bad habits over the last year thanks to a knee injury and some good old-fashioned laziness, and I began to notice that my clothes didn’t fit as well. Turns out, those bad habits are hard to break — even after my knee started feeling better.
No, Lent is not simply a weight loss plan with some Catholic trappings. The goal of Lent is greater conversion to Christ, not a thinner waistline.
But there is no conversion without virtue, and virtues, simply put, are good habits. Lent, from the beginning to the end, invites us to change our habits!
Think about all the things that mark Lent: a change in diet (fasting, no meat), a change in the way things look (decorations — or lack thereof — and the predominance of violet), a change in the way we speak (no “Alleluias”) and even how we sing and pray (no Glorias, no organ solos). Traditionally, many monks would even take Lent a step further and wear uncomfortable clothing and stop shaving their beards.
The common genius of many of these Lenten practices is that all of your senses are influenced in the same direction: toward a heightened sense that this time is different. And by being more aware of the season, we can more intentionally shed our bad habits (vices) and gain good ones (virtues).
Two for the price of one (and not just fish filets — but I do love fish filets)
But again, lest we forget: Lent is so much more than changing cosmetic things about our lives for the sake of, well, feeling better about ourselves.
So Lent has to be more than me wanting to lose some weight, even if it’s virtuous weight loss.
Here again is the beauty and genius of Lent: those very virtues that are gained for lesser things, like losing weight, are the same virtues that will help me with the more important things, like resisting sin, detaching from lesser things (like an obsession with body image), and striving after greater conversion and unity with God.
This Lent, for instance, I’m praying for prudence, temperance, fortitude, and magnanimity — all virtues which will help get me into better shape. But happily, and more importantly, they’ll help me to sin less and to become more like Christ.
Disorienting → Orienting
To my surprise, I’ve come to really like Lent.
And perhaps weirdest of all, I’ve come to like all the things about Lent that I used to not think twice about, like the starkness and simplicity of the churches and liturgies and the specific readings of the season; and some things I even resented, like the length of it, and even the fasting (ok, maybe not so much the fasting). I’ve even taken to growing out my beard for the occasion (you’re welcome, ladies).
When I think about my younger self growing up in Catholic grade school and being raised by my super-Catholic mother, Lent was the worst time of the year.
And now I consider it one of the best times of the year. If that’s not disorienting, I don’t know what is.
Actually, that’s my goal for this Lent: to disorient myself so as to better orient myself toward God.
And if I happen to lose a few pounds along the way, then thanks be to God for that.