Lent: New Year’s Resolutions for Jesus February 23, 2012

Lent: New Year’s Resolutions for Jesus

As I’m sure we all know, Lent is in full swing and we have successfully survived Ash Wednesday.

As a former Catholic, who always wiped off my ashes as soon as church was over, I have to say that Lent seems to be a bit of a publicity stunt. Wear ashes on your head all day on Ash Wednesday. Tell everyone within earshot how close to Jesus you are by gloating about what you are sacrificing for Lent. Proclaim you just can’t eat meat on Friday — though the flesh of sea creatures is totally acceptable.

According the the Catholic Church, Lent is a season of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection at Easter (disregard that this particular holiday season is of pagan origin). The Church officially promotes three ways for preparing for Easter:  fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.

What I’ve heard and witnessed, however, is the PR routine wherein those who practice go around touting what they are “giving up” for Lent.

Truly, Lent is the same as making New Year’s Resolutions with only one major difference:

Lent: Giving up something for Jesus

New Year’s Resolution: Giving up something for yourself

Lent also has a time limit. Whereas a New Year’s Resolution could become a lifelong habit and better you as a person in mind, body, and/or health… Lent gives you 40 days and then says, “Now you can go back to partaking in that vice because Jesus is risen.”

Let’s look at each of the components of an official Lent. I’ll take them in order of how interesting/baffling/thematically-relevant-to-this piece they are:

Prayer. Hmmm. I thought this was already a requirement. Whatevs… it still does nothing anyway. When I was going through catechism in sixth grade I asked the nun two questions:

1. “If God always know what we are thinking, why do I have to pray?”

2. “If God is always with me, why do I have to go to church?”

Her answers — not surprisingly, even at that tender age — amounted to, “because the Church says so.”

In any case, it’s hard to hear the constant, earnest prayers of all the Decent Folk out there when they are so busy letting their friends know that, for the next couple of weeks, they won’t be able to hit TGIFriday’s Happy Hour Special because their wife made them give up drinking outside of the house for Lent.

Almsgiving. In my time in Catholic school and my experiences with those who practice Lent, never have I heard them talk about almsgiving (save for the priest, where it was just a word in the sermon and even then it was used as a call to give to the Church — which, we all know, is not poor). Giving to the poor/charity is great, but again, any news of proposed charitable works is lost under telling everyone how awesome and hard it’s going to be to not eat chocolate for 40 days.

Fasting. The meat (so to speak) of this man-made tradition. The main thing that people do at Lent is to “sacrifice” a bad habit… because actual fasting is a bit extreme, no?


  • Candy/Sweets
  • Soda
  • Watching TV
  • Nail biting
  • Gossiping
  • Pizza
  • Facebook/Twitter

There are tons of very creative ways people try to make refraining from vices/bad habits look like sacrifice. It seems so odd to liken “giving up junk food for 40 days” to the “systematic public brutal torture and execution” of that the man they believe is their god went through. If I were Jesus, I’d be offended. Heck, if I were Jim Caveziel, I’d be offended! Like when men compare passing a kidney stone to childbirth — Oh No You Didn’t!!

My proposal this Lenten season: Instead of publicly declaring one’s devotion to a specific faith by making empty gestures loudly, let’s start a list of good deeds that we can do in anticipation of the coming Spring. Who’s with me?

  1. Give Blood — your own blood. To help those in need.
  2. Volunteer at your local animal shelter.
  3. Purge your closets and donate to Goodwill or your local organization
  4. Visit and/or perform for kids in the hospital
  5. Pick a charity 5K and start training for it
  6. Donate Pajamas to kiddos
  7. Gather some friends to Adopt-A-Highway
  8. Organize a book drive for a worthy organization
  9. Have a thank-you letter party for overseas soldiers
  10. Don’t eat ANY babies for the next 40 days

By doing good things that actually matter, we can make our world a better place. And isn’t that what Lent is all about? … No? Well, it should be.

Leave your recommendations for good humanist deeds in the comments section, and if you need help thinking of things to do, there are lots of sites to check out. Our family likes to go to dosomething.org.

Happy Spring Preparation!

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  • Philip Wielgus

    For calcium’s sake, have you ever passed a kidney stone? That’s not funny! But seriously, great ideas, think maybe I’ll do all these although number 10 may be difficult.

  • Abram Larson

    I can try 1-9, but number 10? That’s pushing it. I need my daily dose of stem cells.

  • Bob Becker

    My annual announcement that I was giving up homework for Lent was never well received.  Dire threatened parental consequences always motivated a rethinking on my part, and a retreat to the ever-present [and acceptable] Plan B  [candy] instead.

  • Roving Rockhound

    Nice clarification about giving blood – it would not be so nice to give someone else’s!

    These are all brilliant ideas, and Lent might be a good time to get in the habit of doing these things. Giving blood, running, and volunteering can be long-term activities, but they often need a kick to get them started. Once you get going, though, they can become a habit.

    At least giving blood is. They ask you to schedule your next appointment while you are tethered (and feeling a bit smug for doing such a great thing). It’s hard to not schedule it. And then once it’s on the calendar, cancelling it is hard. It’s one thing to never donate, but another to decide to not do it.

  • LifeinTraffic

    I was sent to a Catholic High School (we weren’t Catholic, but my public school was just frankly unsafe and it was pretty much the only option), and I never really got Lent. As an adult, I still don’t.

    I mean, I get the concept, I just don’t get the execution, mostly because it seems that every single Lenten “sacrifice” is self-serving, not a true sacrifice at all. Giving up sweets, junk food, candy, TV? Really? Almost all Americans need to be giving those up anyway, and especially in the cases of food “sacrifices” I almost always hear the statement of sacrifice followed by “and I’ll lose some weight!” This is a sacrifice? Gee, I bet the man you think died on a cross after torture would be so….impressed…by what you’re willing to give up to be closer to him.

    Other ideas for Spring Preparation: volunteer at a local schoolyard or community garden, donate *actual food* (not sweets, but real, whole, healthy food!) to your local food pantry, donate pet food to your local shelter, foster or adopt an homeless animal, volunteer at a help line.

  • I’m so doing number 10.  I think I can make it 40 days.  I’m much stronger this year than in previous ones…

  • I can’t give blood during lent–bad timing.  I’m saving myself so I can hit the eight-gallon mark during a blood drive on Reason Day, May 3.

  • Jordan walsh

    I like to make a meal for my grandparents (even though my grandma loves to talk about religion) they are older and have done a lot for me and I want my kids to see me taking care of my older family in hopes one day they may too care for me. SO DO SOME THING NICE FOR AN OLD PERSON!!!!!

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Give platelets if you can. They replenish within a week so I’m pretty sure it doesn’t disqualify you for giving regular blood. (Though the process is longer though: ~2-3 hours)

  • Hjpcreations

    You are a fabulous writer Shannon. This is a great article.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I still go to church with my Catholic wife and I always found it extremely amusing that the gospel reading during Ash Wednesday is always the one where Jesus says to pray privately, not like the hypocrites who make a big show out it. Then they all go out with smudges on their heads to show everyone what great Catholics they are.
     Last year just before giving out ashes, the priest said (paraphrased) “Today’s reading was about keeping your faith hidden and private, but… well… the church in her infinate wisdom has her reasons for us to to do otherwise with these ashes.” It was hilarious, and I hope I wasn’t the only one whose eyes were rolling.

  • TiltedHorizon

    I gave up religion for lent, my life and self esteem improved so much that I decided to stay without it.   Not sure what I could give up now that would have as much positive impact.

  • Geocatherder

    I’ve just finished an MS at my local state commuter university.  A fellow grad student had become highly dependent on (addicted to?) the breakfast burritos served by a taqueria near the school.  She gave up her breakfast burritos for Lent… and damned if we didn’t have to hear about it every single day.   She was pining for the things.  There were a lot of us who were really happy when she graduated.

  • Geocatherder

    I’ve been planning to do #3 for awhile now… it’s time to stop thinking about it and do it.

  • Geocatherder

    Growing up Catholic (I’m an atheist now) there were two things I hated about Lent: the ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday, and tuna pizza on Friday nights.  Canned tuna does not make a good pizza topping.  But my dad was an independent accountant, Lent coincided with Tax Season, and simple meals (like sauce, cheese, and tuna on a purchased pizza crust) were the norm.  By age 10 I was chief cook and dishwasher during Tax Season; by age 12 I was proving clients’ monthly books during that time.  Tax Season was a family affair, and my parents both worked extraordinarily hard during that time.  I suppose I did, too, though it felt exhilarating to be given responsibilities that kept the business running.

    But today I laugh to myself when people declare they’ve given up such-and-such for Lent.  I gave up several springs of my life for Tax Season…

  • Um, but they make TWO holes in you for that one. 

    Thanks for the suggestion, though.  Will check how much of  a separation they require here.  We’re trying to start an atheist blood drive here so I really want to be eligible if I can.

  • I’ve changed my vocabulary.  I’m giving up “loaned” for “lent.”

  • Marella

    Considering the obese state of so many in the Western World I can’t help feeling that fasting is one of the things associated with religion that we could all still benefit from. Probably we should all fast for both Lent and Ramadan!

  • Silver_fox-trot

    Besides eating sea creatures on Friday, you also forgot that you may partake of the Capybara, a South-America rodent (and also the largest living rodent today!), because when the first Catholic Missionaries arrived and wrote to the Pope about the strange creature and asked how he would classify it taxonomically.

    The Pope, well known for being well learned in the sciences at the time, classified the large, brown-furred, air breathing quadruped as a fish.

  • guest

    One thing that hasn’t changed since I realized I was an atheist, was my disdain for the whole “Lenten sacrifice”.  When Mr. Pope gives up one of his palaces, I would give up candy or something silly.

    When I was asked what I was giving up, I would usually answer “During Lent, I won’t be killing incompetent people.”

  • Sinfanti

     I have a friend who asked
    on FB what everyone was giving up for Lent. My reply was, “I’m giving up a
    religion that thinks that pedophiles deserve more protection than
    children, and that people in 3rd world countries should die of AIDS
    rather than use condoms. Not to mention any names or anything.”To my pleasant surprise, no unfriendings resulted.

  • Anonymous

     Eight gallons! Phew!

    I’ll be honest…I only gave blood for the first time last summer (at 26 years old). I’ve never done it before, because…well….I tend to pass out from needles. AND go into convulsions while I’m unconscious (so I’m told), so I figured it was a bad idea. But, one day last summer they did a blood drive at the PD where I work…so I gathered my courage and gave blood. What do ya know? I didn’t pass out, and I learned that I’m O negative. Now, I see this as a gift I have that enables me to help more people. I’ve given almost as often as I could since then. I have an appointment this Saturday to give again, making my 4th donation….so I’ll be up to a 1/2 gallon. I have a lot of catching up to do.

  • Anonymous

    I like random acts of kindness….paying for someone else’s morning coffee in the drive thru, leaving encouraging notes tucked inside books in the library (or caution notes inside the Twilight books), bringing potted flowers to the Alzheimers center in town to have them give to whichever customer is next, putting “You are beautiful!” notes on the mirrors of womens’ changing rooms….

    This is in addition to the above suggestions, of course.

  • Dan

    I’ve given platelets a few times (and really should do it again soon).  It was really easy, but it’s hard to fit into my schedule  since it does take a few hours.  But the center I went to had individual monitors at each bed and a pretty good DVD library, so I could watch a movie while it’s going down. Not a bad way to justify relaxing for an afternoon.

    For what it’s worth, only one hole is needed.  The machine draws some blood,  separates out the platelets, and puts the blood back in through the same needle.  It was really just like giving whole blood, just way longer.

    As for the relationship with regular whole blood donation, my understanding is that if you donate platelets, you can donate platelets again or whole blood in as little as a few days.  But if you’ve recently given whole blood, I think you have to wait 6-8 weeks before you can donate platelets (the same wait as between whole blood donations).  Of course, this might only be for my area (Minneapolis, MN).

    I guess not everyone is able to donate platelets, so it’s really helpful if you are one of the people who is.  When I was donating whole blood they asked if they could take an extra vial to test my platelet count, and got back to me a few weeks later telling me I was a good candidate.

    So if you’ve never given platelets before, you might try asking about it at your next whole blood donation. 

  •  I gave platelets once at school. One needle, took about an hour.

  • I love you like a brother Hemant, but that tenth request is out of the question. Me like babies.

  • Mairianna

    I’d be happy if he gave up his $1000 Italian slippers!  

  • Mairianna

    Yeah, but some places will PAY for your platelets!

  • Mairianna

    I’m O negative, but restricted from donating blood because I was exposed to hepatitis at some point from either a blood transfusion I received during a surgery before blood was screened for such things, or from my ex-husband who was extremely unfaithful (and Catholic, by the way!).  I’ll never know.  SO I had to find other ways of being charitable….I do the volunteer thing, and as RovingRockhound says; “once you get going…they become a habit.”   I am now serving on 2 steering committees for fund-raising events.  Volunteering keeps me off the streets and away from bad habits like eating babies!

  • I suggest picking up trash on a section of beach or riverbank.

    The origins of Lent go back to the seasonal rhythms of agriculture and animal husbandry.  In the fall, you’d slaughter animals you couldn’t feed through the winter.  In the late winter/spring breeding  and lambing season, you’d let your stock  live.
    and then there are those Roman leftovers, the ember days…

  • Mandocommando23

    To be fair, I believe Lent is supposed to symbolically represent for the followers the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by Satan (allegedly). At least that is was I was taught when I was growing up (Catholic). Otherwise, great article!

  • Ljcg

    Tonight was the first time I browsed Patheos and was drawn to your blog because of the name – Friendly Atheist. I have to say, I am quite dismayed. This was anything but friendly. You sound filled with bitterness and derision. This sort of writing only feeds the stereotype people have of atheists as being hateful and on their moral high-horse. Isn’t respect for your beliefs what you’re after? Then, give it to others also and don’t ridicule them. There really is no excuse for the ignorance you have of the role of fasting and sacrifice, seeing as though there are intelligent explanations of these just a hop, skip and a jump away from you. I will not be returning to this site.  

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