It will soon be that time again. Lent. A time when Christians traditionally resolve to give something up in preparation for Easter.
Lent is a liturgical season which burdens it with a sense of "should" or even "must" depending or your tradition. For many that sense of obligation is sufficient and even important. There have been wise and creative people who found that the structure provided by obedience enriched their life, making space for growth in wisdom and creativity. Thomas Merton was such a person. He wrote about his own journey to obedience in Seven Story Mountain.
I am not a monastic. For better (sometimes) or for worse (sometimes), I find myself aligning with traditions that encourage people to ask why. When I do something, I experience greater fulfillment if I can remind myself, "I am doing this because...." It's not that I expect to explore "why" each time I do something; the act of reminding myself is sufficient.
So why do I give something up for Lent? My reminder, a theological shortcut, is, "It is a rehearsal of dying to the self. It relates to Jesus’s acceptance of his own death."
"What does that mean?" I hear you asking. "Why should [or must] I do that?" "Aren't you sneaking obligation in through the back door?"
I truly hope not. The theological shortcut is just that, a shortcut. Truth be told, all of theology is a shortcut; a series of symbolic representations to assist in seeing things too deep, wide, and wonderful for full comprehension.
This particular shortcut, "dying to the self," relates to recognizing that my ego — my sense of individual identity and relevance — is not the center of the universe. The rehearsal gives me moments to notice that while ego has its place, the center of everything is not it; that there is a greater meaning to creation than I can contain or provide.
So, my Lent is simple and sometimes difficult. I take on this practice in faith that the rehearsal will change things, perhaps in ways that I do not foresee. I take on the practice of giving up in hopes of encouraging balance within my life and between my life and the greater life around me.