This Tuesday (25 February) is Pancake Day (YAAAY! PANCAKES!) and for the 40 days that follow, leading up to Easter, it’s Lent (WHAT? BOOOO!) At least, that was my reaction when I was told about Lent as a kid.
Traditionally, Lent is the time of year when some Christians practise ‘fasting’ to remember the time that Jesus wandered in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights and was tempted by the devil. Although some people still limit the food they eat, these days it often means that people give up something they do a lot for 40 days.
Many different religions have a tradition of practising fasting in one way or another, including Jesus’ religion, Judaism. So, of course, Jesus had something to say about it:
‘When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ Matthew 6:16-18
So, firstly, that means if we’re taking part in Lent this year, we shouldn’t show off about what a good job we’re doing or complain about it (sorry childhood me!) because we’re choosing to do it.
And, secondly, fasting is supposed to be a rewarding thing. One of the rewards is what you learn about yourself and your relationship with God and the world you live in.
One year, as a teenager, I gave up Coca-Cola which was very revealing. I once got up, went to the kitchen and opened the fridge to get a glass of Coca-Cola before I realised A) I’d given up Coca-Cola so there wasn’t any in the fridge and B) I’d done it automatically without thinking. That’s one thing that’s good about Lent: it shows you what you do impulsively.
In many ways, our ideas, prejudices, routines and habits possess us and motivate our actions, so giving something up can be surprisingly freeing.
For a few years, my family gave up TV for Lent. It was hard, as you can imagine. Once we were so bored that the entire family decided to follow my sister to her doctor's appointment, an errand that I’m pretty sure it doesn’t take five people to complete.
There were good things too, though. I discovered BBC Radio 7 (especially the sci-fi and horror hour) and I remember reading so many books. It probably helped to jump start my love of literature. I learned that, like a lot of things, TV is mostly a good thing, but it isn’t the only thing, and I have a choice about what I give my time and energy to.
This year, I’ll be giving up meat for Lent. I’ve been planning to go vegetarian for a long time for moral/ecological reasons, because I feel like I don’t need it and I thought Lent would be a good chance to experiment and find out if I can make the change for good.
Come Easter and the end of Lent, we don’t necessarily have to go back to what we’ve given up, but those six weeks could be a great starting point to changing the way we act in our day-to-day lives. Is there a cycle of habits you feel stuck in? 40 days could change your life.