I’m busy planning out my personalized Lent. I need to decide what to give up. I need to decide what to give away. I need to pick books to read and do things that are tailored to my own personal, spiritual needs.
Lent arrives soon. Am I ready? There are so many choices to make.
Or are there?
A Traditional Lent
If I weren’t tailoring my own personal Lenten experience, and were just following the tradition, I would:
- fast on Ash Wednesday,
- read the Bible with special attention,
- read the Church Fathers (and Mothers),
- give up sweets and alcohol (except on Sundays),
- abstain from meats on Friday (or perhaps give up one meal),
- give away extra money to help the poor,
- volunteer my time to visit and assist the sick, the prisoner, or the outcast.
The tradition is not totally uniform. But this a basic outline of Lenten disciplines for many generations back.
Why should I craft my own personal Lent when this old, shared, practical tradition exists?
What I’m Not Saying
I don’t want to imply that we are doing something wrong when we make personal decisions about our practices during Lent. Not at all.
This is all about repentance, honesty with God, and growing into a deeper knowledge of who we are in Christ. It isn’t about following rules or rigidly maintaining a tradition for its own sake.
In fact, even within this tradition, choices have to be made about where to give money and where to serve.
But we can be so very quick to assume that we are totally unique individuals that should always be making personal choices for ourselves, curating a plan of action from our options.
And that can become a problem when we start to see ourselves as above the tradition, rather than within it.
Try a Traditional, Not Tailored, Lent This Year
So this year, consider not personalizing your Lenten experience. Consider simply doing what has long been done.
Consider just being one of the many Christians around the world who are giving up meat on Fridays, or abstaining from sweets. Consider reading the Daily Office and picking up an ancient Christian reader.
(Just note also that, traditionally, there are exceptions on fasting for young children, pregnant women, anyone who is ill, and the elderly.)
Don’t tailor it. Don’t select from it. Don’t fret about it. Just do it.
Perhaps it will be freeing to not make many choices this year, walking through Lent the way an older generation did, and seeing what happens.
Of course, no matter what we do, we can’t really do it. We’ll fail in some way. Even if we totally succeed and we nail it, we will still probably suffer from pride in ourselves for the accomplishment.
And that is the point of Lent. The point is not to do it just right, but to walk through it with each other, in the grace of Christ.
Maybe this year is the year to not do your own thing for Lent?
(To learn more about Lent, check out our Rookie Anglican Guide.)