I’ve heard it said (from more than one source) that the point of Lent is mortification. No, not the kind that sweeps over you when you flub a presentation or belch in public. Mortification, in this sense, refers to the subjection of bodily passions and appetites via abstinence or discomfort. Flogging and hair-shirts, while no longer in vogue, were once rather handy for this sort of thing, but nowadays, we prefer a more civilized approach: giving up chocolate, for instance, or refraining from shopping.

The point is not embarrassment, but humility, purity; a cleaner, better you. It serves as a way to get in touch with Jesus, who gave up his dignity, his family, his very life, to save us. I applaud self-mortification, but I think we can withstand a widening of definition.

Instead of giving up a thing, why not give up a habit or an emotion? For example, instead of answering a snappish phrase from your spouse with an equally snappish retort, why not say, “I love you”? (Hint: This also works with surly teens.) Instead of fearing new experiences, why not embrace curiosity and hope? And instead of feeling mortified after you flub that presentation, why not tell yourself, “At least I tried”?

Because the point of self-mortification isn’t self-hatred or even a tamping down of self-esteem. It’s about allowing discomfort into our lives in order to live more intimately with our Savior. And I believe I can say with some certainty that his opinion of us is rather high — he died for us, after all.

So, this Lenten season, see what you can live without, whether it’s something tangible or something intangible. Let it go. Offer it up, as they say. You may just find you never really needed it to begin with.

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