So here we go again. It’s that time of year — Lent, when many Christians give something up. Often it’s food, although my mom told me when I was a kid that giving up vegetables doesn’t count.
A few years ago, as we approached Lent, a few of my friends (who during the rest of the year rejected religion), announced they, too, were giving something up. What, exactly, they were relinquishing, I don’t remember — and it doesn’t matter.
At the time, it was a joke — “Don’t want to upset Baby Jesus …”
While I still chuckle at the memory, it has lost some of the humor. As the Facebook statuses appeared in my newsfeed leading up to Lent, with my friends announcing what people are giving up or crowd-sourcing ideas, I found myself getting frustrated.
When did Lent just become a second chance at our New Year’s resolutions?
Is that all Lent is now? And does God really care if I don’t eat chocolate for 40 days?
Lent is supposed to be a time to struggle with our doubts and our humanity. But it’s become easy — not that refraining from chocolate or caffeine is especially easy, but it’s a lot easier than confronting our failures, our imperfections, and what is putting distance in our relationship with God.
It’s not about whether or not we make Baby Jesus cry.
We give something up and let go to bring us closer to God and to remember the struggling and suffering of Jesus before he died. It’s hard, and it’s supposed to be, because that thing we’re letting go of is something we’re holding onto too tightly and it’s preventing us from being the whole person God intends us to be.
Personally, I all too often hold on too tightly to plans. It’s possibly part of what makes me good at my job. After all, keeping clergy to the time constraints during a media event requires a plan. But as John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
My husband and I had a plan, for example, and it didn’t involve us living in two states over the past three years while he’s worked on his law degree. My husband worked at the University of Michigan in 2008 and fell in love with the campus. So when it came to applying for school, he applied, but didn’t think he’d get into the top 10 school. He did. And they gave him a scholarship.
I’ve remained in Washington while he’s in Michigan, and while the past three years of a long-distance marriage has been one of the hardest things we’ve done, without letting go of our plans, neither of us would be who we are today.
So this Lent, instead of worrying about making Baby Jesus cry, try to let go of something that’s harder to give up than French fries, chocolate, alcohol or coffee. Because even though it will be difficult, who you are on Easter Sunday just might amaze you.
Shannon Craig Straw is a Washington, D.C.-based communications strategist working primarily with social justice and religious advocacy organizations. She is a lay leader and Sunday school teacher at Mount Olivet United Methodist in Arlington, Va. You can follow her on Twitter: @ShannonStraw.