Back in 1999, there was an episode of The Simpsons in which the kids were under a curfew, so Marge suggested playing one of the games the family owned, and their choices were: Citizenship, Energy Shortage Game, Hippo in the House and The Game of Lent. The kids chose Hippo in the House (only to find that the hippo was missing), and The Game of Lent went back on the shelf. Ever since then, I’ve wondered from time to time what a board game of Lent would be like.
Would you be able to choose between playing as a Catholic or a Protestant? As a Catholic, you could accumulate fish sandwiches and guilt. As a Protestant, you could attend a weekly Bible study, and choose which cross necklace you wanted to wear. (I type this while wearing a crucifix. And I’m Protestant.) Perhaps you would choose what to give up: chocolate, alcohol, coffee, or swearing. (I have tried to give up three of those four things in the past. I’ll let the reader guess which three.)
Maybe there would be a Piety Point System. And bonuses for Sunday Feast Days. The final stretch of the game would be the Holy Week round, with different rolls of the dice determining whether you attended a Christian seder, a Maundy Thursday foot washing, a Tenebrae service, or Stations of the Cross (for the Catholic option). And the big finish of the game, of course, would be making it to Easter Sunday!
All this joking aside, I wonder if, in the past, I have tended to treat the observance of Lent too much like a game. I remember when I gave up alcohol for Lent about twenty years ago. I was conscientious the entire time: I didn’t even have a drink on St. Patrick’s day. And then, when I made it to Easter, the big prize at the end of the game was having a drink with dinner. Giving up coffee was far worse: every day, I would smell someone’s coffee from across the room, and just long for the end of Lent, when I could go back to drinking coffee myself. I always tried to think of the spiritual discipline, and what it meant, but I wonder if it was really more of a contest with myself, to see if I was good enough.
These days, I rarely officially “give up” anything for Lent. Instead, I try to be more regular in my prayers and devotions. Or I try to read the Bible more (last year I read the entire Bible over the course of the forty days of Lent). But is it still just a race to the finish? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not proposing to abandon my observance of Lent. It’s still a season that has a great deal of meaning for me. You see, when I was in my late 20s, and had not been a practicing Christian for several years, I rediscovered my faith during Lent. It was essentially when I first started living as an adult Christian, a Christian by choice. Ever since, the season has been a time for me to consider my faith, and what it means to me.
And so, this Lent, that’s the main thing I’m trying to do: to be more mindful about my Christian faith. I’m not giving anything up, I’m not trying to achieve anything. I’m not trying to win The Game of Lent. I’m simply trying to take some time every day to think about what a life of faith is, to think about the things I believe (or no longer believe), to read some theology. I’m trying to dig a bit deeper into the soil in which my faith grows. We’ll see if anything new sprouts in that soil.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.
Give me the joy of your saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.