Disclaimer: This post has religious content but is more about a religious tradition thru my eyes and not at all meant to impose my religious beliefs.
Spoiler Alert: There’s a joke at the end. (Hoping that keeps you reading now that you've read the disclaimer)
My whole life I thought Lent meant drab, dreary, suffering and death. I’ve taught religion sporadically for almost 20 years. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, I was prepping for my class of First Communion students and I learned that Lent = Spring! Whether you practice a faith in which Lent matters to you or not, a lot of people are familiar with the ritual of “giving up” something for Lent or at least know someone who does. For forty days starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday millions of people give up something as an homage for the suffering of Jesus. In my opinion, the word Spring does not sound anything drab-like. Unless of course you refer to Spring Cleaning - which I just started to do this weekend. I pulled everything out from under all the bathroom sinks and purged away. Yup, the $30 bottle of shampoo that I will never use because the smell gives me a headache was thrown in the recycling bin. Ouch! In this case, Spring does sound like death. Death to hanging onto shampoo just because it cost $30! Getting rid of the dead weight ended up being very Spring-like because now my cabinet has space for something new or it can just be space.
As for suffering, I used to give up candy every year. The people around me suffered too because I turned into a total b*^ch after two days of no candy. Inevitably on Easter Sundays, I was a glutton who wouldn’t even breathe between bites of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups only to be sick all day after the binge. It took many years and a whole bunch of Easter candy before I figured out that Lent wasn’t about that.
One year I gave up GOSSIPING. Holy cow, that was much tougher than it sounds. I think I blew it an hour after I declared giving it up but I jumped right back on the horse and tried not to gossip for weeks. Being aware of how much I gossiped was an eye opener. Another year I gave up JUDGING. Well that was like a death trap waiting to happen. Surprise, the person I judged the most - myself! The runner up? Any other mom around me. To give up judging is asking for a complete lifestyle change for sure. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but years later I’m still working on it!
Since then, we learned that we didn’t always have to give something up for Lent. In fact, you can ADD something!! Yeah, that’s the ticket - adding something good instead of giving up something bad. I tried to add a prayer each night before bed - but I wasn’t very consistent. Then I tried adding grace before each meal which worked maybe 5/40 because we were always too hungry to take three seconds to say thanks for our food. This year our family is again, going with the Millennial flow, adding something instead of giving something up. A.k.a. the easy way out. Might as well - it goes along the same lines as everyone getting a medal for showing up. This year, we added the Stations of the Cross on Fridays. Which we did this past Friday and we even stayed after to have Soup Supper with those who participated. If we go more than once, it will be icing on the cake because my goal is to make this a memorable Lenten Season and that night was pretty special. The act of arranging it so that we could attend this event got me thinking, how come I am motivated these days to get into the spirit of Lent? The answer is a thoughtful pinch. I was completely blindsided and I’m not sure if it was intentional, luck or divine intervention.
The thoughtful pinch was a joke. Our priest told us a joke at Ash Wednesday mass. For me, this joke brought so much levity that the laughing actually cleaned out the drab, dreary old Lent feelings that I have always held onto and put a little pep in my step. The joke and laughing opened up a gate that I guess I never knew was closed. And now I have space for something new (Stations of the Cross) or it can just be space (stillness).
Father Michael used an Irish accent and his version of the joke was very detailed and long but here’s a paraphrased version:
A village in Ireland started calling a man “The Man Who Orders 3 Beers.” The name started because a man would come into the local village pub and ask for 3 beers. He would then take all three pints and sit at a table all by himself to drink one beer after another. After days of the man ordering the 3 beers, the bartender asked why he did that. The man explained that he has two brothers. One who lives in Australia and one who lives in the US. He said that he made a promise that he would always drink one beer in honor of each of them and one for himself. Once the bartender knew the story, the rest of the village knew why the man ordered 3 beers and so the nickname stuck. About a year later, the man who ordered 3 beers came into the pub and only ordered 2 beers. The bartender notified the town and everyone said their prayers. They flew their flags half-mast and there was sorrow amongst the villagers. After a week of the man only ordering 2 beers he was asked the details of the brother who passed away, the man said, “Both of my brothers are still alive. I just gave up drinking for Lent.”
How can you not laugh at that? Even if you don’t care about Lent or your spirituality does not consist of “organized religion”, I think you’d agree that sharing a joke with someone is a form of a thoughtful pinch. Tell a joke (preferably an non-offensive one if you have any) and give someone a pinch. Spread some joy. Lift some spirits. Clean some of that dreariness away and get ready for new!