I’ve been in the habit of both giving up things and taking things on for Lent. I do both for two separate reasons.
I take things on as an act of penitence. I think penitence is so often wrapped up in that horrible, dirty feeling of guilt and self-loathing, that people don’t like to go very near it, but for me penitence is truth-telling, honesty, cleansing and wholeness. I love a bit of penitence. So my act of penitence this year as in previous years, is designed to benefit humanity. St John’s Chrysostom said “Any act of penitence, if it does not benefit mankind, is a pious vanity”. So I’ve been doing some stuff for some people, not to put too fine a point on it.
But giving things up, for me that is an act of liberation. I give up things to prove to myself that I don’t need them. I always give up alcohol and chocolate, the two most addictive things in my life other than Bach and Strictly, but I also like to give up something else as well. In previous years this has been caffeine, or tea and coffee, or watching screens for entertainment, that sort of thing.
With all of those, I had expectations of it being difficult, but it never was. I was told when I gave up caffine that I would have horrible headaches, but I would sleep much better etc. In reality I didn’t really notice. When I gave up tea and coffee completely (rather than just having caffine-free alternatives) I just had hot water, or cold water instead, and again, hardly noticed. The only thing I noticed when I gave up screen time is that I could spend more time reading in the bath.
But this year, I have given up milk in tea and coffee for Lent. I’m not being daft about it – I still have it in food, I still eat cheese every now and again. I’ve just been having my tea and coffee black. And I have discovered that I really, really need milk in my tea and coffee.
But because I’m a good Christian, I know that Sundays, even in Lent, are feast days, so on Sundays I go back to having milk in my coffee and tea. And it was last Sunday that I came to the sobbing, tearful realisation that coffee with milk in it is disgusting. Can’t take milk in tea or coffee now, it tastes foul.