Giving Up Giving Up
— By Robin Whetstone —
Lent is my very favorite season of the Christian calendar. It could be because the focus on Christ’s impending crucifixion appeals to my goth sensibilities, or it could be because I know how necessary the darkness is in order to truly appreciate the light.
But I think the real reason I love Lent is because I excel at what many say is the main task of the season: giving things up. I am really, truly able to give things up without a second, or sometimes even a first, thought. Ballet class in the 3rd grade, in which I begged my mother all summer to enroll me? Turns out they don’t give you the satin pointe shoes and the pink sequined skirt on the very first day. Nope, it’s just chubby 8-year-old me in a K-Mart leotard, expected to plie all day. Sorry you already paid for the whole month and this is only the 3rd, mom, but I quit. That after-school activity, that friendship, that banjo lesson, that garden bed, that job, that marriage, that other marriage, that volunteer position, that exercise routine? It just wasn’t for me, so I gave it up.
When you have plenty, it’s easy to let go of things. There will always be more, after all. Always someplace else to look for comfort and pleasure. Plus, our culture tells us that that is what we’re supposed to do. It’s enshrined right there in the very first sentence of the Bill of Rights. The pursuit of happiness, the chance to be our best selves and to live our best lives – the enshrinement of the rights of the individual – this is what we hold dear. If my self-actualization requires shedding things or responsibilities or relationships that make me unhappy or uncomfortable, well, so be it. Oprah will support me, plus I can always say I did it for Lent.
But in a culture that leaves everything up to the individual, as ours does, what binds us together? What holds us accountable? And how do we get anything done? If you can just quit the job that you hate, ditch the friend who annoys you, and divorce the guy that doesn’t fulfill you, how do you build anything meaningful? If it’s all up to individual choices about happiness and freedom, what does it mean to be a member of anything, like a family, a nation, or the body of Christ?
So this Lent, I’m giving up giving up. Instead, I’m praying for discernment about what to hold on to, and even what to add. And I’m opening myself to things that might make me less happy in the short term, but will make me more useful in the long term. I’m going to stay in the church even though it makes me mad sometimes, and I’m going to keep plugging with the people who frustrate me. I’m going to keep the job, complete the course, attend the meeting, and run for the seat. I’m going to stop letting go, and start sticking around.