Sunday, February 21, 2010

Society struggles with Lent
Spirituality versus popularity creates an emotional tug-of-war

Stores shelve miles of tempting easter candy during the Lent season.

Since we were children, Lent has always been seen as the time to drool over the pastel packaged bunnies and chocolate eggs until Easter morning came around.

Having given up sweets after receiving encouragement from our Sunday school teachers, we counted the days until we could wake up and feast upon these treats we denied ourselves for 40 long days.

But how much do we truly suffer during this time? We often forget that the root of Lent is to remind Christians of Jesus Christ's suffering in the desert to build a relationship with God.

Today, many people use Lent as a second chance at a New Year’s resolution.

Shinae Smith, a Catholic who chose to attend a Presbyterian church when she went to college, noted this fact.

“People say this gives them extra incentive and accountability to lose weight or stop drinking pop,” she said.

But Smith said that Lent should actually mean something completely different.

“For me, having that hunger pain during Lent will remind me not only of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice to me, which was himself, but that he suffered for 40 days and nights and knows what it means to struggle.”

Smith is one of the few who still views lent as a spiritual reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Even non-Christians now practice the act of Lent, simply because it is a common, widely-discussed topic.

OU student Katy Deitz says that even though she doesn’t attend church anymore, she still tries to give up something for Lent every year.

“ A lot of my friends give up something. It’s just become kind of a habit to at least try to give up something, cause so many people talk about it,” she said.

Katy is demonstrating what Pastor Mike Girlinghouse of University Lutheran says all humans want and need: the sense of belonging to a community.

“Why do we study in groups or go to football games? Cause it’s a heck of a lot more fun than reading on your own or watching it alone on TV. The same is true for Lent,” he said.

Pastor Girlinghouse said he is a spiritual man, but he is aware that Church more often serves as a place for people to be social rather than experience something spiritual.

He also said that people want to participate in Lent because we crave the desire to follow discipline.

“We live in a culture where there aren’t many disciplines, so we manifest those in our habits. These same patterns are found in those who make New Year’s resolutions,” he said.

Alex Shumate, the son of a Baptist preacher, said he sees church as a habit because he went with his parents every Sunday as a kid.

“It’s not that I don't feel spiritual when I go to church, because sometimes I do. But, like Lent, I go because it's what I've done my whole life,” said Shumate.

Shumate enjoys being able to discuss what he’s giving up for Lent with his friends, but he won’t flaunt it as he said some tend to do on their statuses for social networking sites.

“Like with praying, you don’t go up to people and say ‘I prayed to God today!’ It kind of defeats the purpose of building a spiritual relationship if you brag about it,” he said.

Shumate adds that people discuss their Lent accomplishments because it commands a certain amount of respect if you make it all the way through the 40 days without your chosen vice.

For most people, that vice is food.

“If you’re going to sacrifice something, you need to sacrifice something essential,” explains Pastor Girlinghouse, “and it doesn’t get more essential than food.”

So when you walk by the rows of candy at WalMart and want to cave in, either remembering your Christian faith or a committment to a friend will make easter morning that much sweeter.

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