Lent is the period in the liturgical year of Christendom, the forty days that lead from Ash Wednesday to Easter, that represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the desert enduring the temptation of Satan before he began his ministry.
Traditionally, Christians have used the forty days of Lent to prepare for Easter through fasting, both from foods and activities, and by other acts of penance, as a time to grow in their awareness of what it means to be a disciple of Christ and to be on a spiritual journey. It is not uncommon for some people to give up a vice or add something that might bring them closer to God. This is often done by giving time or money to a charitable organization.
Having explained all this, I have been trying to figure out what I might give up for lent. What could I remove from my daily life that would be a penance to remind me of my faith during this season? This season leading up to Easter; spring, a time of renewal and new life. "I've got it" I thought, "Fried food! That's it! I'll give up all fried foods". The truth is I've already, pretty much, given up all fried food and being more stringent about this dietary practice might only lead to more weight loss, more physical pride and more vanity which wouldn't be a very spiritual reminder of my faith at all.
So I've been seriously thinking about what to give up that would strengthen the awareness of my faith as I consciously abstain from it and the thought came to me that I might give up using the words hate and should. I find both of these words to be negative, accusatory and overused words that tend to be corrosive and hurtful.
The word hate is so overused that it really seems to have lost it's meaning. How many times a day does one hear "I hate when that happens" or "I hate when people do that"? If a word, which is meant to express the most intense dislike, is constantly used to describe inconveniences and bothersome situations then, in my view, it really ought to be given a rest. I also find it rather unattractive to be bringing attention to people, places or things which I dislike intensely so for these reasons I've decided to try to eliminate the word hate from my vocabulary. This has proved really not as hard as I imagined and only became difficult recently when Ann Coulter was being discussed. Spewing and inciting hate is, after all, what she seems to have made a career of.
The word should, however, is a little more difficult to avoid. It's so much a part of our daily vocabulary: "You should try this", "You should go this way instead of that way", "You should stop smoking", "You should eat more vegetables." All these things may be true but It has been brought to my attention that when I use the word should I am automatically making the other person wrong. "I know better. My suggestion is more valid. What you're doing is bad." If I'm using the word should then I'm judging and insinuating that the other person is wrong even if I am trying to be helpful. Unsolicited advice is always heard as criticism. No one likes to be judged or told they are wrong. This makes people feel bad. So for this reason I've decided to try to eliminate the word should. So far so good.
This motivation of not wanting to make anyone feel bad brings me to the biggest decision I've made about what I want to try to give up: Speaking ill of anybody. Yep, you read that right. I don't want to say anything bad about anybody. This is the big leagues now. This is way more difficult than no meat on Fridays or not using specific words. Not speaking badly about anyone is proving to be very hard, indeed. Inevitably I find myself in situations that upset me. The challenge is to keep the focus on myself and my feelings instead of focusing on other people's choices and behaviors or what they are doing wrong. This is harder than it sounds. I can be upset with a situation and even express my feelings of displeasure about that. That is very different, however, than saying "That guy is a moron!"
Perhaps this idea of not speaking badly about others was brought on by the whole gossip thing. I don't know. I am going to try to keep this up, at least, till Easter. Who knows? It might even follow me into the next season and the next. Not making others feel bad is certainly a commendable step on a spiritual journey and could only lead to feeling better about myself. Even if I fail at eliminating this last indulgence I'll have cause to remember that I wanted to have it removed as an affirmation of my faith.