On Religion and Reasons: Why Fast for Lent?

On Ash Wednesday this year, I made a decision that I had been avoiding for a few weeks. I decided that, for the first time since when I was about 13 or 14 years old, I would not be sacrificing anything or abstaining from anything during Lent this year.

It was a decision I knew my mother would frown upon, while certain others I know would certainly approve. Giving up something for Lent is something I have always done and justified; from when I was entering my teenage years and excited to finally be old enough to partake in this tradition, to when I justified it as “developing self-control” and “giving up what makes me happy because I don’t need it and others don’t have any of it”, to more recent times where I’ve done it out of a sense of compulsion and tradition, unable to understand or explain why I was. And as I have attempted to understand and explain the reason why I chose to fast in the past, and do not wish to do it this year, my simplest reason is this – I genuinely do not see how it benefits me, or anyone else, or if it serves any purpose at all. Fasting, abstaining, and giving up certain things I enjoy during Lent are things that do not make me a better person in any way, and I do not wish to mindlessly do them because I am expected to.

As I see it, Lent is a period for us to improve upon ourselves. We can reflect more, pray more, and feel closer to God. We can appreciate His sacrifice to save us from our sins, and we can take steps to become better people. We can do more to benefit others; be it through charity or donations, by taking active steps to get involved in causes we care about, or merely being better members of our societies. No one can deny that they have faults, and we can all take steps to work on improving those aspects of ourselves. And if we find that abstinence and sacrifice help us with that process, then it is absolutely something we should do.

I know that I have reasonably good self-control when I want to, and I always believed that I would be able to give up something for 40 days if I so wished to. Yet, I always wished to actually try it and watch myself succeed. I’ve sacrificed things like watching TV when I was younger, and have given up eating all forms of sweets or desserts most years. Despite my love for the same, I’ve never truly been tempted – as I’ve said, I have reasonably good self-control when I want to. So while one may say that they want to sacrifice indulging in something to improve their self-control, that’s clearly no longer my motivation.

The one other primary reason I think I would give up certain indulgences, be it things that spend time or money, would be to put those resources to better use. If the money I save from not going out for fancy meals or for dessert during this period can go to someone in need, or if I made a conscious effort to spend the time that I usually spend playing games or watching films for something more fruitful, then I would feel like my sacrifice had a purpose. If there is some direct good that comes of my sacrifice, I’m willing to do it. But the sacrifice is not the important part, what matters is that someone else has benefited.

Thus, that is what I intend to do more of this Lent. Take out some time to help a stranger, be with a friend who needs me, or volunteer at a shelter or anywhere my services could be of help. Over the next few weeks, as I am approached by beggars at streetlights or encounter auto drivers who want to keep the change, I’ll be more giving. And if that results in me giving up something I would have bought that day, even if it is as small as a cup of coffee, I will. Perhaps, even if I do end up spending money on clothes that I could have done without, it doesn’t matter – because I will donate something I own and don’t use to someone who could use it more.

Every week, as our priest addresses the congregation, he reminds us to reflect. And at every point during this Lenten period, when I look back and reflect, I wish to feel like I have made a difference in someone’s life. That, to me, is the true meaning of Lent.


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