Lent: giving it up

I didn’t have time to have pancakes yesterday. And today my commitments prevented me from participating  in the traditional Ash Wednesday imposition of ashes ritual. I have more regret about the pancakes than the ashes. I like pancakes.

The liturgical year was an important backdrop to my upbringing and early adulthood. There was a time when I would have made a big deal of Lent. I would have organized my schedule around the worship calendar, signed up for a Lenten study group, and entered into some sort of exercise in self-deprivation.

Because that’s what you do, isn’t it? You give things up. You deprive yourself of some luxury, or discipline yourself out of some bad habit, all in the name of spiritual improvement.

Not this year. The whole idea of Lent as a penitential exercise is becoming increasingly problematic for me. I find  it difficult to reconcile the whole notion of Lent as a time you “give things up” with the central Christian injunction to “love your neighbour as yourself.” Because I have always taken that to mean that it was important to be able to love oneself– not in the narcissistic sense, but in the sense of taking care of oneself. I believe that striving for heath and balance in my own life is the prerequisite to loving my neighbour. Maybe even for loving God.

So here’s where the whole idea of Lenten self-discipline starts to fall apart for me.

I am a full-time single parent with a full-time management job. I teach courses and do other project work in my “spare time.” Everywhere I turn there are people who rely on me for support of one kind or another– financial support, emotional support, learning support. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge this support to anyone. But Lent always conveniently coincides with a segment of the  calendar year that, for me, is perennially draining. It’s also a time of year when the weather is harsh and unpredictable — when I’m ready for Winter to be gone, but I know I still have to get through the muck and slush stage before it really feels like spring. It’s a time of year when I need to be really intentional about providing myself with enough self-care to maintain a healthy equilibrium.

I’m far from perfect. I know there are lots of deprivations I could self-impose in the name of spiritual improvement. But here’s the thing– at this point in my life I will confess that I’m already feeling pretty tapped out. At what point does giving something up for Lent cross the line from spiritual self-improvement into failure to care for one’s own need for health and balance? Because when it comes right down to it, all those people who look to me for support are important to me, and if I don’t make sure that my life is healthy and balanced, there won’t be any of me left to love them.

Last year I quipped that I was going to give up guilt for Lent. This time around I’m taking my heresy to the next level.

I’m giving up Lent for Lent.

Because, as the saying goes, I already gave at the office.

And everywhere else.