Lent: Giving Up Giving Up
If your spiritual maturation is going anything like mine, one Lent you must have already come to the realization that giving up chocolate, coffee, or saturated fats, as noble as the discipline might be, does not exhaust the penitential spirit of the liturgical season.
Penance, after all, is first and foremost about conversion, which, in turn, is fundamentally about changes of heart, always in the direction of greater openness and malleability. Merely “giving up” pleasurable things can be an oversimplification of this dynamic process.
A few years back, I decided to give nothing up, but instead spend time each day of Lent writing a letter to someone I love. The “penance” greatly assisted the softening of my heart.
Collectively, dear readers, we surely could assemble a lengthy list of creative Lenten aids and additions that have moved us towards conversion. Experience has taught us that, at least some times, giving up is a short cut along the path of least resistance.
When we make the effort to “give up” giving up, we can be led to a more conscious, reflective, active and theologically salutary participation in the Easter procession.
Now, if your spiritual maturation is going anything like mine, you might be feeling the urge to take another significant step forward.
As I ponder our world–floundering as it is in the morass of ugly politics, disintegrating biomes, armed conflicts and wild disparities of wealth—a real temptation, too often indulged, is to shrug shoulders, sigh and say “Intractable!”
In other words, my common, perhaps default response, even if only unconscious, is: “This mess is way beyond my very limited housekeeping abilities. I give up!”
Precisely here I’m beginning to feel the need to give up giving up. In a very absolute and final sense. Give up giving up. That is, put my foot down decisively and stop walking away from the overwhelming needs and challenges of the world to which the umbilical cord of my existence is, to the day of my death, unseverably attached.
To give up giving up. Picture that. Imagine the ramifications. No more shushing your nagging conscience when you needlessly add carbon to the atmosphere, or trash to the landfill, or rejection to the homeless man on the corner. “Everyone else does it”, would no longer work.
When you truly give up giving up, other people’s indifference and resignation to perennial problems cease to hold water in your personal case. Truly to give up giving up is to stick your neck out in a very uncomfortable manner. With a neck that long, the danger of whiplash increases exponentially.
The urge is upon me this Lent to make this determined step. But, quite frankly, this urge unnerves me. The more I investigate myself, the more I recognize the extent to which I give up every day on so many things, events, people and places.
Indeed, I’m constantly binging on my own sense of powerlessness and futility in the face colossal challenge. That is behaviour that comes from a heart crying out for genuine, deep conversion. A Lenten heart inured to its own vital hope and need for redemptive activity has only one option: to give up giving up radically and thoroughly.