Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Time to Give

As we begin another Lenten season, David Mills encourages Christians to Give It Up, Whatever It Is:

Another Lent is at our throats. At least that’s the way it feels. William F. Buckley is said to have answered someone who asked if he liked writing, “I like having written,” and that is my feeling about Lent. I like having done it.

I would commend to you the old practice of giving up something, which I wrote about a couple of years ago in Just Give It Up. The experience of your own worldliness is always, even after giving things up for decades, a bit of a shock, and a salutary one, and what small increase in self-discipline you acquire a good thing in itself.

For some reason, the comments on the article disappeared. Several were very helpful, too, but there were a few — to head them off here — who went on in that chipper post-Vatican II nun-in-stretchpants St. Louis Jesuits guitar mass Jimmy-Carter-grin accentuate the positive Mary Poppins kind of way, that Lent isn’t about giving up things but about opening ourselves to God, etc. I can’t remember the jargon, but I remember it was very trying.

So: Yes, okay, sure, go ahead, have a positive Lent. But the rest of us, self-indulgent hedonists that we are, need to start with an exercise that reminds us of who we are, and how far we fall short of our ideals, or even our usual self-appraisal, and how much we need the grace of God. As I say, Just Give It Up.

It’s easy enough to say that you’re “going to open yourself up to God” during Lent. Putting that in practice on a daily basis however usually proves difficult for most of us. That’s where the sacrifice (however small) of giving something up comes in. Whenever you think about whatever it is that you’ve decided to forgo during Lent, it gives the opportunity to think about why you’ve chosen to do so. That is a trigger which can lead you to open yourself to God and allow him to enter into your thoughts, even if only for a brief period of time.

One of the challenges for Christians today is to not get so caught up in the everyday whirl of the world that we don’t set aside time for God. You can have the best of intentions of not falling into that trap, but it’s all too easy. Giving up something for Lent is one way to force yourself to avoid.

This doesn’t mean Lent can’t have positive aspects as well. Perform good works, give time and money to charity, and make time for prayer and reflection. But give something up too. You’ll like having done it.