The last pancake has been flipped and Lent, the long six-week run-up to Easter, has begun. Conventionally, this is a period of reflection, fasting and preparation for the Easter festivities. These august aims often translate into giving something up for Lent – frequently, everyday indulgences such as sweets, chocolate, alcohol or meat. For some Christians, Lent is a compulsory period of abstinence.
In our secular society Lent is often interpreted as a period when self-improvement is the order of the day. A lockdown Lent poses particular challenges and, at a time when social life has ground to a halt and many people are battling loneliness, penury, anxiety or depression, the minor sacrifices of Lent may seem to be a step too far.
You will need to take a long hard look at your lockdown lifestyle and ascertain what, precisely, is helping you to survive. If you honestly feel that a compulsive addiction to streaming services, regular takeaways and heavy consumption of caffeine and red wine are the only things that make your life worth living at the moment, then don’t kick away these vital supports. If, on the other hand, every glass consumed and evening spent watching television is a matter of self-loathing and self-reproach, then perhaps you should look at a six-week moratorium.
Perhaps, in these difficult times, it’s a good idea to reverse the conventional wisdom: don’t give things up, start doing things differently. Clear out your store cupboards and donate excess groceries to a food bank, or make regular donations when you do your weekly shop – there are collection points at many supermarkets. Review your wardrobe, weed out things you never wear, and put them on one side for charity shops. Increase the length of your daily walk or cycle ride. Alternatively, you could just give up moaning and try and embrace a more positive attitude.
Whether you choose to give something up or take a positive step, remember that this is a decision you have made for yourself, which concerns only you. Don’t boast about your sacrifices, or advertise your virtuous resolutions. Many people will have taken the perfectly legitimate decision to eschew Lenten sacrifices, and may find your self-satisfaction hard to take. For some people, simply getting through the dreary weeks ahead is enough of an achievement, and nobody should make them feel guilty for focusing on that task.
Remember that self-improvement is an arduous, lonely road and navigating it is a matter for you and your conscience. An audience, and approbation, is not required.