YourTango Expert The Rev. Christopher Smith discusses what couples can do to observe Lent.
Last night, I danced, downed hurricane cocktails and gorged on king cake at a Mardi Gras party. This morning, I grumpily got up at 6:30 to make a 7 a.m. yoga class — something that's a particular challenge for me since I am not a morning person. I usually take the class at night or on the weekends, but this year I decided that I don't like the way yoga interrupts the flow (no pun intended) of my schedule, so I'm taking up morning yoga for Lent — at least three times a week. Why am I doing this? I'm not super religious, but I've always been fascinated with Lent, and its central idea of giving up, or sacrificing. Whether you interpret that sacrificing as bringing you closer to God or simply want to challenge yourself, I think it's an interesting and worthwhile exercise that can give us renewed strength.
While I'm doing this Lenten challenge by myself (my boyfriend graciously went to the class with me this morning, but I think it was more in the spirit of getting me to start going), I recently spoke with YourTango Expert The Rev. Christopher Smith, a relationships counselor/therapist, about what observing Lent means for couples. Here are some of main lessons:
"Taking Up," Not Just "Giving Up"
In the last couple of decades, Lent has become not just about "giving up" certain food or luxuries for couples, but about "taking up" more wholesome activities together, says Rev. Smith. Some examples he provides are going to church, praying or doing volunteer service projects together. Traditionally, he notes, "giving up" is naturally tied to "taking up." When you give up certain foods, like red meat, you save money, which can instead be donated to a charity you both support.
40 Days, 40 Acts
Another way couples can observe Lent is in sets of 40 acts for each of the 40 days, says Rev. Smith. For example, you can write 40 sweet mini notes to each other as "acts of kindness." Or, you can do 40 "acts of care," doing little things for each other that you did in the beginning of the relationship, but have since begun to neglect. You can also try 40 acts of penance, every day writing to your partner about something you've done wrong that you're sorry about. "It can be small things," says Rev. Smith, "Like, 'I was a little snippy last night, I'm sorry.'" Hm, something about that idea really appeals to me...
A Better Relationship?
Can "doing Lent" together eventually put you on the track to a better relationship? According to Rev. Smith, when you're focused on achieving a goal together and doing it in a positive way, without fighting, you're "fostering a new way of relating to each other. You, as a couple, are doing something positive together. And if you take on or give up things that are issues or problems in a relationship, it's a chance to work on a problem together."
Of course, there are challenges when doing a spiritual act as a couple, says Rev. Smith. Sometimes, one person gets frustrated and gives up on the whole idea, while the other doesn't. It's difficult to move forward as a couple when one of the partners is not totally there. Also, while some people end up forming a habit that becomes a lifelong change at the end of Lent, others go right back to their bad habits. "I'd say it can be both ways with couples."
Will I keep up my yoga promise? We'll see, but my Lenten track record is pretty good. One year I said good-bye to celeb gossip blogs, and another I stopped eating red meat. Both have worked out pretty well: I now do both in low-key moderation. Maybe I'll become a regular morning yogi! Fingers are crossed.
Are you giving up (or taking up) anything for Lent? How about together with your partner?