As I write this post, Ash Wednesday is five days away, and the discussion on social media is starting to heat up. What are you going to do for Lent? What are you going to give up? Should we give up social media? Read a Lent book? Give extra money to the poor?
Maggi Dawn pointed out years ago that this is actually a very modern discussion. For the vast majority of Christian history, the Church told you what to give up for Lent (mainly meat and dairy, in case you’re interested), and since everyone in the community was giving it up with you, there was lots of support! Nowadays we’re much more individualistic, and as a result we’re so spoiled for choice that often just making a decision can be very difficult.
One thing that’s occurred to me this year is that I tend to gravitate toward Lent disciplines that are attractive to my personality type. I’m an introvert, so my Lent disciplines tend to be private disciplines: prayer, fasting, reading, and so on. I tend to focus on my personal relationship with God (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength”), but I don’t often take on Lent disciplines that focus on my relationship with others (“Love your neighbour as yourself”).
So here’s a thought: if Lent involves embracing a bit of discomfort for the sake of our own growth, then maybe we should consider Lent disciplines that aren’t easy for someone of our personality type. Maybe this year I shouldn’t focus on personal stuff at all. Maybe I should think of some creative ways to love and serve my neighbour (whether that’s a family member, a church member, someone in my neighbourhood, my music community, someone in the developing world etc.).
For me, I know this means spending time with people. In the end, this is the most valuable gift we can give to one another. There’s a reason we call it ‘spending time’; once it’s spent, it’s spent! You’re never going to get that hour of your life back. So it’s a real act of love to spend that time with someone else, rather than on yourself and your own amusements.
So maybe this Lent, introverts like me should be looking for Lent disciplines that push us out of ourselves a little more. And maybe extroverts should be looking to embrace solitude and silence and longer times of personal prayer.
A few weeks ago I read Brené Brown’s excellent book The Gifts of Imperfection. One of the themes that runs though the book is her triad of the three components of Wholeheartedness: ‘Courage, Compassion, and Connection’. Courage, to her, often means the courage to speak what’s really on your heart, honestly, without giving in to fear. Compassion is not so much about feeling compassion as it is acting in compassionate ways (and it also includes paying proper attention to boundaries, so that we can be more effective in that). And we grow in our sense of connection by actually going out and connecting with people.
I like that. Looks like a good plan for Lent for me. Now to firm it up with some concrete ways of putting it into practice.