The aim of lent is not just to make you suffer, it’s to make you suffer in a context where you can feel safe enough to learn something about yourself in the process.
Our lives are full of suffering, but unless you are a masochist and know it, that suffering is unplanned. Gleaning self-knowledge from an unplanned crisis is great, but often it’s enough just to survive. Self reflection is a luxury.
In contrast, the small deprivations that we inflict on ourselves during lent are a planned, luxurious kind of suffering where we can feel free to build in plenty of time for self-reflection. Since the suffering is optional, danger and alarm don’t cloud the mind. We can see clearly who we are when our comforts and routines are disrupted. And unless you’re taking it too far, the deprivation you’ve lined up for lent is low grade enough that you won’t be scarred by the process. It can be like practice for the real hardships of life.
This year, I’ve given up tea, which is my only source of caffeine. My tea takes up two shelves in my kitchen cabinets. My teapot and kettle are sleek, expensive, and well designed. My strainer and tea spoon are the only actual silverware (i.e. made of actual silver) that I own. The tea I have is the finest from Taiwan, Ceylon, and northern India, and the smells and colors are like a miniature bazaar that transports me to far away, magical places. So it’s not just the caffeine buzz I’m giving up but also the sensory delights of smell, taste, and color.
In the palette of suffering, I much prefer no tea to dealing with a sudden death, or a personal financial catastrophe, and like all of of my comforts, removing it hasn’t proved to be such a big deal. But I’ve been able to find out how I deal with being more groggy and confused than usual in the morning (not well, it turns out) and I’ve had to find other things to do for five or ten minutes around 4 p.m. I’ve had to find a new routine, which is probably the thing I hate doing more than anything else.
And come Easter, that first sip of Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe will be all the better.