The Lenten season is officially upon us, and even if you are not Christian or particularly prone to self-denial, you know what that means…
It’s time to hear about all the things that people are “giving up!”
While “giving things up” isn’t exactly the true spirit or purpose of Lent (more on that later, if you so desire), pop culture has designated Lent as the official season of Abnegation.
Remember Divergent? That’s right, I saw the movie. No, I haven't read the books. And I’m proud to say, I loved it.
Anyway, abnegation is the act of giving something up—especially something you would like to keep.
Over the years, I’ve “given up” lots of different things for Lent. From the juvenile (chocolate) to the even more juvenile (men) my Lenten “sacrifices” have truly run the proverbial gamut of options.
Today, I’d like to share some of the more noteworthy experiments with you in the hopes that that they will inspire you to a) laugh a little, b) not take things so seriously all the time, and c) mentally check your current commitments to see if they are really serving their intended purpose.
Yes, that’s a lot. But I promise—it will be fun.
Tracy’s Little Lenten Life Experiments
Yes, just like Rachel from FRIENDS, I used to have a serious gossip problem.
In addition to that, I was incredibly nosy. If someone was talking about something, I just had to know the “who, what, when, where, and why.” All of it.
But mostly “the who.”
I like to think that this social faux paus came from my genuine desire to want to connect with others… but feel free to call BS on that if you’d like.
Either way, when Lent rolled around several years back, I took it as an opportunity to rid myself of this horrible, horrible habit.
What I didn’t realize was that I would also be ridding myself of nearly every… conversation… ever. Seriously, guys, I was amazed! I never realized how many conversations existed solely to discuss someone who wasn’t physically present until I decided not to participate in those kinds of conversations.
It was frightening how quickly I was rendered speechless.
After 40 days of listening to and abstaining from these types of talks, I learned a lot about the people I was spending my time with and the conversations we were having. I also learned how to be an advocate for someone who couldn’t speak for themselves.
I’m certainly not saying that I was a saint and made it through Lent without spilling the beans about Sally and Dave making out in the high school parking lot (sorry, y’all).
What I am saying is that I learned about the true power of our words.
Speaking of powerful words, there are some words out there that just have more sting than others.
That’s why, one year, I decided to give up swearing.
I’ll tell you guy right now, this experiment was pure entertainment.
I mean, you can only say “schneikies” so many times before the Real Deal Holyfield comes back out.
Trust me. I’ve tried. For 40 days, I tried.
And for 40 days, I was ridiculed and taunted and intentionally toe-stubbed (yes, people suck sometimes), in order to elicit the unspeakable response. To counteract these malicious attempts, I created alternative swear words that were intended to alleviate the build-up of tension and entertain my friends.
These included “cheez-its,” “fiddle sticks,” son of a biscuit eater,” and my personal favorite, “didgeridoo.”
Yes, I know that’s a real thing, and yes, I know those are incredibly lame.
I just had to get it all out somehow!
But again, I learned something funny about myself and my friends.
I had been replacing so many useful words with words that expressed nothing but anger and frustration. So much so, that at the beginning of Lent, I had to really think about what I wanted to say before I spoke. And wouldn’t you know it, my speech became that much more…
Well, that was true until my boyfriend at the time, who had given up ice cream, decided to swear in front of me.
That night, I ate a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s just to spite that son of a biscuit eater.
And it tasted good.
As you might have guessed it, after that F-ing Phish Food fiasco, the following year I decided to give up boys.
How does one effectively give up “boys,” you wonder?
For the 40 days of Lent, I went cold turkey on men—no dating, no canoodling, and certainly no DFMO’s.
Don’t ask. Just Google.
This experiment happened during a very interesting time in college when an intense heartbreak sent me on a downward spiral of bad dates and worse decisions. Thankfully, I saw the end of the slippery slope before I hit it, and decided to use Lent as the vehicle to begin my steep climb out of the hole.
I’ll tell you this much—something very… umm, intriguing?… happens when you stop looking at the opposite sex as a potential date and start looking at them as a potential friend.
All of a sudden, I was having real conversations with people that I never expected. I was learning things about my guy friends (yes, friends!) that I never would have encountered had I been focusing on whether or not we might kiss in the next five minutes. I was even given the opportunity to counsel them through their own romantic journeys as a trusted advisor rather than a woman looking out for Number One.
With one swift decision, I changed the way I interacted with 50% of the population.
And paradoxically, I got my own life back.
This one might sound weird.
But I believe that when you see a need and do nothing, you're not just not helping-- you're adding to the problem.
But that’s exactly what I decided to do. I stopped adding to the problems around me.
Lent had provided such a wealth of information for me that I decided to start sharing it with others.
A couple years after giving up men, I decided to take on acts of selflessness—thus I “gave up” being selfish. Every day, I looked for one selfless thing I could do for someone else. I figured, if I had 50% more friends than the year before, those people probably needed something that I might have.
I started donating money. I started giving away food. I started offering to help people carry things or hold the elevator or give someone a ride to work on a cold day.
Not everything, everyday. Just one thing per day.
In fact, I met one of my best friends in Connecticut, because her car wouldn’t start.
The funny thing about this experiment wasn’t all the fuzzy feel-good’s that I got to experience. And strangely enough, it wasn’t all the “thank you’s” or the appreciation from the people I served.
I learned that when you start to look at the world through the lens of helpfulness, you start to see just how many people are in desperate need of something.
And not just anything—something you can adeptly provide.
You can give away five dollars. You can spare a sandwich. You can chauffer a coworker. You can dog-sit or house-sit or pet-rock-sit.
I know these things sound small, but isn’t life about doing the small things right?
Doesn’t that add up to doing the big things right, too?
Just like a good comedian, I like to bring a story full circle.
So, the year after I decided to do things for others, I decided to thank others for doing things for me.
This was probably my favorite Lenten experiment of all.
For an entire season, I picked one person every day and thanked him/her for being in my life.
Related family. Close friends. Random strangers.
Anyone who impacted my life positively got to feel a little love for a day. And the response—well, there really aren’t words for the incredible impact of those 40 days.
Let’s just say that I continued to make that a daily practice for quite some time after Easter.
The Big Picture
When you dedicate yourself to something, you can’t help but learn a valuable lesson—good or bad.
Lent, among other seasons of introspection, abstinence, and almsgiving, is not about what we can deny ourselves, but about what we can give to others.
It's the best season for life's little lessons.
It’s about getting back into right relationship with the people around you.
It’s about losing something to find something even better.
Even if you aren’t Christian or don’t believe in self-improvement (which I’ve always found hilarious as a potential “belief”), try letting go of your bad and taking up more of your good.
Yes, that’s a lot. But I promise—it will be fun.
Now, I want to hear from you!
- What can you “give up” or “take on” to improve yourself and your life?
- Where can your relationships with others grow?
Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.