I was thinking, as I was getting ready this morning, about Lent. I'm not Catholic, never have been, doubt they'd have me. I've tried, at various times, to get into being either Lutheran or Episcopalian, but I've never been able to get past Jesus, so it's never lasted long. And yet, for years I have, in my own way, observed Lent. Mostly, I like that there is a time of year to focus on loosening your grip on the things and habits that slip into your life that are not necessarily what you want for yourself. Partially, I'm sure, I'm just masochistic enough to like the idea of self-denial, but there is something else, as well, more connected to strengthening yourself by giving something up, that appeals to me.
I was, I think, about 13 when I first observed Lent. I had recently started going to church, mainly because there was a "teen" group on Sunday nights and one of the members was a boy in whom I was interested (lovely curly hair and chocolate brown eyes). It wasn't, however, a church that observed Lent. In fact, the kind of rural fundamentalist church about which I am talking probably considers observation of the Catholic calendar sacrilegious. However, I had read something about Lent and decided that, in my new quest for spirituality, it would be a good idea for me to observe it. Since fasting was out (I was really skinny at the time and my mom would have had a conniption fit if I'd tried to stop eating), I decided I'd give something up. But it had to be something precious--I was serious about this (at 13, I was serious about everything).
I grew up poor and did not have a lot of nice things. However, that year my dad had given me a leather bomber jacket for Christmas. It was, I remember clearly, from Costco and cost $99. I'd seen it there and drooled over it without even considering it could be mine for months before it showed up under the tree. I loved that coat. It's soft buttery leather. It's silky polyester inner lining with imprints of old maps on it. The smell. How great it looked. I wore it non-stop from Christmas Day onwards.
So, of course, for Lent it had to go. Relegated to my closet, where I looked at it longingly but never wore it.
Except on Sundays, to church. For some reason, my understanding of Lent was that you give something up except for Sundays. So every Sunday I lovingly took it out and wore it to church, then returned it for the week, until Easter Sunday, when, in an act of symbolism that felt huge to me at the time, I left it home and wore something else to the church pageant.
Of course this all seems very silly now--both the church going (that church was really a pretty terrible place) and the value that coat held for me. But it's kind of impressive, too--my 13 year-old self had self-control for which my adult self strives every day.
I'm not giving anything up for Lent this year. Mostly this is because I've already given up the things I needed to remove from my life, more or less. I have been working since New Years on controlling my shopping and spending and paying down credit cards, and although there is a long way to go, I am doing well with it. Plus, I'm just too old at this point to find self-denial romantic anymore. Yeah, I could give up coffee for Lent, suffer the headaches, and probably feel better about being caffeine-free by the end of the season. But it wouldn't have the same magic giving up that jacket had at 13. That's the problem with me and religion these days--I still don't believe it, and it's not romantic anymore to go through the motions and pretend that I do.