I find an effective way of deciding what to give up for Lent is, on Ash Wednesday, to make a list of your vices and cross out all the ones you’ve indulged in since breakfast. Based on this approach, my possible pickings are slim. I can give up broccoli again. I can give up Erratically Capitalizing Things For Emph– dang it.
There are two categories of Lent observers, if our Googles on the subject are any indication. On one end are the people Googling things like “Can you give up religion for Lent?” “Can I give up homework for Lent” and “Give up everything but beer for Lent.” “Can I give up Lent for Lent?” ask the especially meta of this crowd.
There are the people who are just confused (“Give up virginity for Lent?”) or mistakenly hopeful (“Can you give up work for Lent?”).
There are the dieters, hunting for “Good things to give up for Lent to lose weight.”
And then there are the rest of us.
You can tell a lot about people from what they are thinking of giving up. These are the things we could stop doing, but not forever, and maybe not now. It’s a handy catalog of modern vice. The list has certainly changed since the first time this fast was imposed. Gone are — uh, “not observing the Blue Laws” or “sitting for portraits in shirts with too many ruffles” or “reading French novels.”
Lent is the holiday of Things You Can Almost Give Up. It’s the day of Behaviors You Realize Are Problems But You Engage In Every Day. And from the things Google suggests when you type in “give up [x] for lent,” you can form a pretty complete picture of our culture. Alcohol? Chocolate? Caffeine? Coffee? Carbs? Cigarettes? Complaining? Driving? Drinking? Dairy? Facebook? Gas? Gluten? Gossip? Internet? Junk food? Jeremy Lin puns? (Man, remember those?) Kissing? Meat? Men? Makeup? Music? Negativity? Phone? Processed foods? Procrastination? Rice? Smoking? Swearing? Sugar? Sweets? Twitter? Texting? TV? Talking? Tea? Technology? Weed? War? Wheat? Wine? Worry?
Get rid of those, and we’re left with two hobbies — intending to start yoga and rapidly minimizing windows when our boss walks past. What will we do with our lives? I guess we have to finish “Atlas Shrugged” now.
Auden said that “A vice in common can be the ground of a friendship but not a virtue in common. X and Y may be friends because they are both drunkards or womanizers but, if they are both sober and chaste, they are friends for some other reason.” Forget friendship. It’s the basis of our whole society. What are we going to do during Lent? What will we talk about? We’ll be reduced to complimenting each other, over water. It begins to sound quite dire.
And 40 days is a long time, if that Josh Hartnett vehicle from more than a decade ago is to be believed.
How to survive? What will we do? What we always do, I guess. Look at all the things we’re going to try and give up. Try, and — give up.
Also, if you feel like giving up hope for Lent, contemplate the following search: “What did Justin Bieber give up for Lent?”
How about giving up FALSE IDOLATRY, tweens?
Or if you feel your Lenten resolve weakening…