Posted on 01 March 2012.
The first New Year’s resolution I made was in junior high, and it was all about a boy.
I was 12, and that year I resolved to get him to ask me out.
He didn’t. (Oddly enough, my resolution wasn’t exactly binding on other people.)
In high school, I resolved to master new skills like teaching myself an instrument or running half a dozen miles each day. I always made a valiant effort at the beginning.
By the end of the week, however, my resolution was broken. Three months into this year, I’m enjoying the fact that, so far, I haven’t failed.
But it isn’t because I’ve suddenly developed great willpower or a stringent routine. It isn’t even because I felt guilty for all of my past failures and have decided to change my ways. Instead, I haven’t failed because there’s nothing to fail at, since I stopped making New Year’s resolutions three years ago.
It’s wonderful, really. The sense of guilt I get from my inevitable failure is gone. But while I love not having to feel the pressure to fulfill a year-long promise, could I be missing out on the lessons I might have learned in the process?
Each year around this time, I’m surrounded by people who have decided to make “resolutions” concerning the season of Lent. The commitment is not as intimidating as an entire year long resolution, but the mindset is the same. Or so I’ve always thought.
Lent wasn’t something that I really paid attention to until I became a student here. I remember being extremely confused and slightly panicked at the Ash Wednesday chapel my freshman year. (Do I really have to keep the smudges on my forehead all day?) Four years ago I made a mental note to do more research on Lent so I understood it. It seemed like something “religious” people did and therefore, something I should do too. Right?
The thing is that I never did that research. I never understood Lent, and consequently I didn’t practice any type of fasting. Like a New Year’s resolution, I understood Lent as just another promise to better my life, something that until this year was concentrated on guilt, not deeper meaning.
My recent understanding happened by accident, actually; I didn’t plan on participating in Lent, but one of my friends shared a link on Facebook for Relevant magazine’s recent article, “Why practicing Lent is crazy.”
Ever the procrastinator (and over-user of Facebook, I naturally clicked.
The article didn’t revolutionize what I thought about Lent, but it did remind me of my former curiosity. That, and it emphasized a new element of the “fasting” process I hadn’t thought of before: sacrifice.
It makes sense, really, for sacrifice to be the true focus of Lent. The timing itself, for starters, lends itself to this as a natural focus. Lent leads up to Easter, the time when Jesus made the greatest sacrifice and gave us salvation.
The article, by Christine Jeske, discusses the fact that at face value, the sacrifice of participating in Lent may seem … pointless. To the rest of the world, giving up Facebook, sugar or some other “vice” won’t really have a long-term impact. According to Jeske, however, the act of sacrifice (no matter how menial) is much deeper.
“Sacrifice is hitting a point where you see your own limits, and give beyond that. It’s saying to God, “Fine, let my life make no sense at all, let it be a failure, let it be wasted, but above all, let it be yours.” It’s throwing yourself out across a canyon you could never leap across, trusting somehow there will be a parachute, or a net, or a bridge, or somehow it will be OK – even somehow better – because of your leap. It’s knowing this: God is in charge. Period.”
In light of this statement, my choice to “sacrifice” for Lent this year isn’t really a sacrifice. In fact, were I to mention it on Twitter, I’d probably receive responses with the hashtag #firstworldproblems.
I don’t know how the rest of my time fasting will go. Considering my history with commitments like this, there’s a good chance I’ll fail. And the thing is, that’s OK. In some ways, it’s not the flawless keeping of the promise that matters; it’s the attitude behind it. The commitment of Lent isn’t just to re-shape everyday habits or re-evaluate life’s blessings and gifts. It’s about growing to understand sacrifice – granted, in a very limited, human fashion, but understand all the same.
Chances are that I won’t truly ever understand sacrifice, especially the sacrifice that Lent commemorates. But I’ll get a little closer.
I think that’s worth the 40 days.