Lent: It’s not about the fish

Today is Ash Wednesday, for those who observe Lent. The fast food places have been leading up to this by advertising their fish sandwiches and shrimp baskets. Sometimes I think non-Lent-observers must think this is International Fish Season.

It’s not about the fish. Here’s my (completely unofficial and totally biased) observations about observing Lent:

  • It’s a period of fasting, abstinence and/or discipline for spiritual growth and preparation for Holy Week and Easter. It commemorates the 40 days that Christ spent in the wilderness in fasting and temptation to prepare for His sacrifice.
  • Lent starts with Ash Wednesday, when you will be able to tell who is Catholic (or other observing denomination) by the smudge of ashes on their forehead after they go to mass/services that day. (The ashes are a reminder of our mortality, not a membership badge for the Holier Than Thou Club.)
  • Some people give up meat for all 40 days, some just one day a week. But fasting is not really about giving up meat; it’s about eating small, simple (meatless) meals all day–enough to keep your body healthy, but not for enjoyment. (Usually people do this just one day a week.)
  • Passing up the BBQ for an all you can eat fish fry does not count as fasting.*
  • Often people will give up something they really enjoy–something that is a luxury, extravagance or vice. I have given up (not all in the same year): Coke (cola, not blow), meat, video games, the Internet (except one email check a day), television, bread, chocolate, desert, and coffee (the longest 40 days of my life).
  • The flip side of that is adding a discipline, like daily prayer or going to mass every week (if you’re not good about that, which… I’m not), or volunteer work.
  • Working to improve your hand-eye coordination by playing Rock Band does not count as self-improvement.

Lent is not a ‘diet’ but a sacrifice. Every time I pass up something I love, I think about how lucky I am to have it, and how others are less fortunate.** It’s not about how strong my willpower is, but (for me) a reminder how much I have been given, and how I should not waste it on self-interest, but use it to make the world a better place (even if it’s just with my books).

Even if you don’t observe Lent (or Christianity), we have a tendency as a culture to take non-essentials for granted. My cell phone has become indispensable to me–but even I have to admit that the games and apps are a complete luxury. All that I really NEED is for my family to be able to reach me in an emergency.

This year I’m giving up “empty” carbohydrates: White bread, white rice, white sugar… which means muffins, scones, pastry, cake, cookies and yes, pancakes. Basically the stuff that’s luxury, not nutritious. This is going to be hard, because I love pastry more than chocolate.

What luxury or extravagance would be hard for YOU to give up?

* The (completely illogical) “fish doesn’t equal meat” thing is more about tradition than biology. I think it’s a cold-blooded/warm-blooded thing.

** I also think about Christ’s suffering and God’s grace, but I try to avoid religiosity in this blog. Um, despite this whole post being about a religious observance.

8 thoughts on “Lent: It’s not about the fish”

  1. This I'm not Catholic, but sometimes I try to better myself by observing Lent. It’s impossible for me to give up the internet because I’m in college and I need it for school. Social networks are just hard to give up at this age too. I’m giving up pop and unnecessary unhealthy snacks (like getting candy or chips when I’m not really hungry and if I was hungry I’d try a healthier option.) I’m also going to try to pray more.


  2. I really appreciated this post. I'm in the "not specifically Catholic but still observe Lent" category, and your comments got me thinking about some things I hadn't really considered.Sugar is the main thing I'm giving up for Lent. I guess I'm going for "eating healthy in general" as well.


  3. @MsFairyFreak Oh, I wouldn't be able to give up the Internet now. I need it for work. Like you as a student, I need it for research. Even social networking is kind of a responsibility–you don't want to let your friends down, and I don't want to break off with my readers. I think you have the right attitude about pop and unnecessary snacks. I'm the WORST about just eating junk when I'm not even hungry!@Felicia the Geeky Blogger — Oh, potatoes. How I love them. Mashed, baked, fried… with cheese, with salt, with Tabasco…I know lots of non-Catholics who observe Lent. It's not like God checks your membership card.


  4. I am so so glad you posted about this. I've been thinking about this for about two weeks trying to figure out what the heck I'm going to do. I'm pregnant this year so giving up anything food related is just not going to happen. In the past I've also given up dessert (I almost died!) I've given up listening to the radio in the car which was maybe even more difficult! Your post brings me back to the reason we observe lent in the first place and I just figured out that instead of giving a "thing" up this year I will instead devote some of my time to reading the bible and prayer which I am pretty bad about doing every day. I think I will do it during my sons nap everyday so it's also a sacrifice because that is the only time I get to myself all day. Hope all is well and good luck over the next 40 days, I certainly couldn't do it! Thanks : )


  5. Great run-down, Rosemary. Today is a special day for me as well. When I was pregnant with my second child, I gave up donuts. I know it doesn't seem like much, but it was the one thing I craved. Torture, I tell you. How you can give up empty carbs, I have no idea. I'm with you on the pastries over chocolate. But I don't have the willpower to give them up, probably ever. This year I'm giving up, um, anchovies. Okay. Anchovies. Yum. *shifty eyes*


  6. Carolina– One year I gave up candy, which was no hardship because I can really take or leave candy. It's the same reason going meatless isn't a sacrifice, because I only eat meat once a week or so. But bread, on the other hand… And no, DONUTS sound incredibly hard. The Murphys– My mom is on chemo, so she can't do any kind of dietary fasting (I mean, when she feels like eating, she needs to eat!), but she's adding prayer and study, too. And I think it's a huge sacrifice to do it during your kid's nap time! I'm sort of in awe of you right now.


  7. Great post Rosemary! Thanks for posting it. I'm a non-practicing Christian at the moment and have never observed Lent even when attending church and acting like the person of faith I really am.I made a comment about the Bible earlier today on another net venue, and based on the responses I got I really wondered why people are so quick to dismiss that God has a hand in what's going on in the world…All that to say that it was a bit of affirmation to pop over here and read a positive post about God/religious events.


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