“It’s Ash Wednesday next week, what do you give up?” I asked a friend.
“Sarsaparilla,” he answered, without a moment’s hesitation. “I never touch Sarsaparilla during Lent.”
Not being sure what Sarsaparilla was, I made a lucky guess. “Is that like me giving up Irn Bru or Dandelion & Burdock?”
“Exactly,” he said, “stay away from the things that you don’t drink.”
Lent is often like that, people give up alcohol or chocolate or Facebook. Sometimes, I suspect the abstinence demands no more sacrifice than the soft drinks not drunk by my friend and I. The spirit of the season gets forgotten: isn’t Lent meant to be about things on the inside rather than the things that people see?
If it is about stuff on the inside, rather than eating and drinking, what is there that should be given up if one is to be a different person by the time that Easter comes around? Including the six Sundays, Lent lasts for forty-six days, can anyone really change in so short a time? Perhaps putting aside thoughts for even a short time can be good for the soul, can be a form of spiritual change, or improvement, or renewal, or whatever word one might wish to use.
Personally, if a continuing non-consumption of Irn Bru and Dandelion & Burdock does not represent a proper spirit of sacrifice, then the thing that would have to go is schadenfreude. Even the sound of the word has a certain satisfaction, taking a certain delight (or sometimes a great delight) in the misfortune of those who have caused me hurt.
Schadenefreude is not entirely un-Scriptural, though the church tends to avoid the bits that relish revenge as a dish served cold. Back in January, Verse 36 was used in church, but the prescribed verses stopped at Verse 10, leaving out Verses 11-12,
May the foot of the proud not come against me,
nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
See how the evildoers lie fallen—
thrown down, not able to rise!
There is an Old Testament tradition of smiting one’s enemies, though even in the Old Testament there are verses like that from Proverbs which says, “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.” For Christians, Jesus makes it clear that not only should we not be in the business of smiting anyone, but even the stuff that is most hurtful should be forgiven.
Schadenfreude should go, even deposits left by pigeons and seagulls should not bring a smile, though it is delight in the small things that is the greatest challenge.