What Are You Willing to Give Up (for Lent)?

Today was Ash Wednesday in the Christian Catholic tradition. Numerous believers around the world went to church and got a cross made of ash drawn on their foreheads. While A Dude Abikes is not Catholic, and by no means can offer an authoritative treatise on Lent, some of my ancestors were. A number of people today and last night at One Page Salon talked about this practice of renouncing something, which is only one part of a religious of taking 40 days to prepare for Easter Sunday. Somehow this one part of a solemn spiritual ceremony “went viral” and became a sort of New Years resolution do-over. For lapsed Catholics and others who just like the idea, it is a worthwhile endeavor to renounce something “sinful” or a “vice.” It could be cigarettes, alcohol, or something stronger, like candy. Or a behavior like watching TV. In any case, I began thinking, “What am I willing to give up?”

Simple Question, Not an Easy Answer

It seems like a good idea that anyone can do, religious or not: give up a bad habit, substance, activity etc. and in 40 days you’ll be a better person. But as I began hearing people talk about this, I couldn’t think of anything I was ready to give up. Maybe that’s because I have avoided almost all flour and non-whole grain foods for 14 months now, and it hasn’t visibly helped me at all.

I also gave up at least an hour to start walking and writing every single day, also since January 1, 2018. Since December 6, 2013, I’ve been doing daily yoga. That’s alot of giving up of time that continues to tax my sleep and therefore energy levels, ultimately reducing my health. For me, giving up something else seems too hard. I tried giving up meat and dairy for a week and that led to anemia. So I have to be careful about things like that.

There are plenty of things I could reduce some, if I tried really hard, like:

Source: Pixabay.com
  • sugar
  • negative, doubting or self-critical thoughts
  • television and other screen time
  • cynicism
  • not trusting others without good reason
  • worry about health, money, and so on
  • thinking that money is a bad thing
From Memegenerator.net

How to do all that, I’m not sure. My reserves of will power are pretty much taxed to the limit to do the walking, writing, yoga, and biking. And I’m ok with that. And since I’m an athiest, I’m not going to fall prey to the guilt-trip that if I don’t give up something that means I’m not a good person. For me, just trying to do a little better each day is good enough. Al Franken’s character Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live should be the mantra for all of us.

Don’t Give Up, Recommit

Each of us must decide whether to give up something, and if so, what. There’s no right answer because there is no universal requirement we all observe Lent or something like it. But to the extent we realize we may have drifted off the path toward our goals, there is value in re-examining where we are headed. In my case, it’s the above list. For you, there may be overlap, total difference, or you just don’t relate to the concept. In some cases, there could be an addiction which may be too strong to overcome by belief alone. Is bicycling an addiction? My other healthy habits? What if I had to give one or all up? I don’t know, but hopefully I’d find other ways to do things.

As I often say about being a fathlete in Austin, Texas who bicycles around 100 miles/week, it takes a village. There are plenty of people who have helped me along the way. Mechanics, donors, friends, supporters, family. I’ve given some help back, through volunteering for Bike Austin. Or by doing half a dozen charity rides and raising $12,000 in the process. But to consider adopting the practice of renouncing something for Lent, we must do an exploration of our current habits, patterns of the mind, and more. By considering what is really important, what are distractions, and otherwise what gets in our way, the path may become clearer.

Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash

So instead of saying to yourself, “I can’t ever have anything good to eat,” reframe that. It could be, “I choose to avoid white flours because I know it’s good for me, even if I can’t see it and I do eat sugar to compensate.” Because this is a long journey, and a marathon, not a sprint. The concept of harm reduction applies. Don’t freak out that you still crave, want and eat sugar. Be gentle. Realize that you didn’t become a sugar fiend in a day, and it won’t end in a day. Being a bicyclist, carbs and sugars are important for the muscles. I could start by admitting that maybe not so many candy bars are necessary for optimal biking performance.

Maybe seek out the sweetness of life a little more. Get and give hugs. Smile and make funny faces children. Play with dogs. How about being more mindful of how you feel when you want it? Is it really thirst just masquerading as hunger? Or could it be a habit and you can replace some candy with fruit? Or just enjoying sugar and realizing, “Hey, it’s not like I’m doing heroin!” Just try to do better the next day. Do your best and don’t beat yourself up is my unprofessional advice.

Deprivation Can Lead to Recidivism

I’d like to issue a proclamation that “I’m giving up __________________!” But I’m not ready to do that. Surely there are many things I didn’t even list that I could give up. But am I like many people who have tried to lost weight by diet, exercise, and so on. When I’m deprived of things I like for too long, I want it more. This is why the field of weight loss is so powerful: diets don’t work for the long-term. I don’t know the answer to this except to start small and maybe have a chat with that inner critic. “What is it you REALLY want?” “How do you think we should get that?” “Do you have any dark chocolate candy?”

Hopefully in reflecting, whether through prayer, meditation, journalling, riding a bike or whatever, we can change our behavior for the better. But if we don’t want to, or can’t, that begs the question: What need does this substance, thing or behavior fulfill? Can we replace it without something more healthy?? Of course, if you’re an alcoholic or drug addict, you probably need serious, professional help. There is no such thing as a normal average person, but if there were, s/he would not have those harder to overcome challenges, fortunately.

For many of us, we have things that hold us back. It could be something easily changeable like eating too much at dinner and running out of an ingredient. For another example, on television, there is usually a misunderstanding with another person we care about. Can we reach out across the bridge of time, hurt feelings and so on to heal that relationship? I’ve tried to do just that with an old friend who ditched me years ago. I have hopes we’ll continue to rediscover the good parts about the other person, but also to respect the side that has been deprvied.

Photo by Andy Falconer on Unsplash

You Do You, I’ll Do Me… Naturally

Whatever you choose, own it. That’s the bottom line for me. If I make a choice, the consequence is mine too. Like it or not, whether I’m willfully ignorant of it or not. Yes, genetics, how one grew up, education, socio-economic status, etc. all affect choices. But in the end we can only control so much of ourselves, and even then, not so much. As for controlling others, and the Universe, that’s a pretty silly notion. So you do you, and I’ll do me. And maybe we can meet in the middle and try to all do better. Pass the chocolate. Or maybe a banana instead.

What is your experience of Lent, or of giving up something?

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13 thoughts on “What Are You Willing to Give Up (for Lent)?

  1. Since I’ve been married for 17 years and have 3 very active kids, I can safely say, “I’ll give up sex.” That would be a safe bet since the two annual occasions–Valentine’s Day and anniversary–have already passed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Everyone is an atheist. It’s simply that some of us believe in one less god than others. I’m a frequent visitor to Austin, having a son who lives and races the Driveway series on Thursday night. If you ever get to Luster Pearl East on Caesar Chavez, stop in an say hi to Brandon. The first drink is on me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point that Ricky Gervais made to Stephen Colbert, though I guess some would quibble with the math. I’ll try to get by that bar. I prefer my carbs in solid dark chocolate form, but thanks! Wish I could race, but I hear it gets pretty gnarly. Hope he stays out of trouble!


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