Confession: I have given up treats for Lent for the past 10 years or so. It began when I was writing my dissertation proposal and lived on cottage cheese (with onions and chives), chocolate, cheesecake and cookies. I realized I wasn’t doing myself any good and decided to give up treats as a whole because I wanted to start treating my body better. Lent gave me the opportunity to start.
A few friends thought this was superficial, or even a bit opportunistic, and I remember thinking: “well, isn’t that the point of Lent?” If Lent is a time to prepare for new life in Christ, then cleansing my body from the things that are making me ill should be the perfect thing for me to do during Lent. I started paying more attention to what I was eating, to what I was using to fuel my body and my mind. Clarity came, I finished the eighth draft of my dissertation proposal, and defended that proposal two weeks before Easter.
Lent gives us the opportunity to clean out the old and welcome the new. Having a specific time to help us out in this regard is a great blessing. I realized that Jesus is with us during our times of struggle, offering a hand to hold for support if we just reach out. I realized that year that I could move without my crutches because I could walk upright with a friend.
I continue to give up treats for Lent because “treats” are my weakness. I use them as a crutch. When I’m stressed, tired, anxious, or irritated, I reach for treats because they are comforting, and I forget about holding out my hand to God.
Treats also represent creativity and community for me. While I was writing my dissertation I started taking cake-decorating classes. The thrill of making the perfect buttercream rose made up for the cramped hands and the three hours of practice it took to make it. More than a delicious decoration, that rose represented determination and progress. It represented me. Since I was making one cake per week for three months straight, I started taking them to school to share. On Wednesday mornings Cake Club was community, fun, and laughter. It gave us the chance to talk to people we normally would not have, and it created new friends. When I stopped taking classes I did not have the time to make cakes and I missed the community of support it had created. I missed that outlet for my creativity and, of course, I missed the cakes.
In my mind, treats clearly embody the best and worst of me. They symbolize my struggles and my achievements. When I give up treats for Lent I am showing my vulnerabilities, and giving myself the opportunity to get back in touch with what is important to me without the fog of sheer habit. When I think back on the lessons I learned that first year, I remember that Lent is a time of healing, a time of preparation, and a time to make new goals.
In the years since, I have learned that Lent is a time to let new relationships form. I have learned that when people divulge what they are doing for Lent, they are sharing their own vulnerabilities. They are sharing the best and the worst of themselves because they are revealing where they need healing, and where they want to grow. They are inviting you to live in relationship with them and, when they listen to you, they are offering their support as well. Lent allows us time and space to live in this community of support. In this sense, then, Lent is a gift of love.
I have learned that Lent is a call to prepare for a new life. It offers us the opportunity to discover new things for ourselves, leading to change and growth. All we have to do is reach out and someone will take our hand. And maybe give us a cupcake.
Pomazon is assistant professor in the Department of Religion and Culture at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.