Seasonal, Self-reflection

The One Where An Atheist Gives Up Something For Lent

Stack of pancakes with blueberries and maple syrup
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Pancake day is fast approaching, which makes me think two things – 1) will I finally perfect the (vegan, obvs) pancake toss? and 2) what shall I give up for lent?

Fun fact: Residual Catholic guilt means that Lent is the only guaranteed time of year where I will successfully give anything up for more than a week or two. God knows what they said to me at Sunday school, but it worked. Decades later and despite now being a fairly staunch atheist, I’ve still only skipped two years of Lent out of the last 18.

So what am I giving up this year? Takeaway coffees. They cost me way too much money and don’t give me enough joy to justify the expense. I can still enjoy a coffee if I’m sitting in, taking time over it by myself or with a friend, but I can’t grab a coffee ‘to go’ and then mindlessly drink it on the way into work or at my desk. I buy a takeaway coffee about twice a week at an average cost of £2.70, so over the course of lent I should save around £40. Not a lot, granted, but I’m saving for a trip to Japan which is expensive a.f and I’ll take all the £40s I can get, thank you very much.

There’s also the environmental impact, of course. I’m trying to be much stricter this year and only buy takeaway coffees when I have a reusable cup with me, but there have been a few slip ups, so by avoiding them altogether I can also ensure I’m not contributing any coffee cups to landfill this lent.

Picture of an overflowing trash can on a city street
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

But what is it about lent that means I successfully give things up when I’d be likely to fail at other times of the year?

I think the defined time period really helps- knowing that it’s only 6 weeks and will be over on Easter Sunday gives me something to work towards. 6 weeks is long enough to feel like an achievement, but not so long that my willpower has to be put through too much of a test. The hardest one I ever did was giving up between-meal snacking, something I doubt I’d be able to achieve now that the snack-fest of life working in an office is upon me, but somehow back then I managed to get through it.

Another important factor is that it is a recognised and somehow socially sanctioned thing to ‘give up something for lent’. I could decide to give up something for a 6 week period at any point during the year, but it would inevitably invite more questions and more attempts at persuading me back over to the dark side than being able to simply say ‘I’ve given it up for Lent’ and let that be that. So it’s somehow a combination of an achievable time frame with a sense of social legitimacy that makes it such a do-able time to refrain from crisps/chocolate/cake.

Of course, accountability always helps with these sorts of endeavours, hence my posting it on here. The fear of public failure is real. Even if it is only a silly coffee.

For the next six weeks it’s nothing but depressing instant coffee in the office for me, and occasional glorious flat whites in cafes at the weekend, mindfully enjoyed and quite possibly photographed with a lovely Instagram filter.

And that’s the best thing about giving things up-  learning to appreciate them so much more.

A coffee with art in the foam in a white ceramic cup and matching saucer
Photo by Matt Hoffman on Unsplash

1 thought on “The One Where An Atheist Gives Up Something For Lent”

  1. I’m still not sure where I fall on the religious scale, but I do often enjoy Lent. I’ve accumulated so much crap, that I’m going to do a grocery bag of things to throw away/give to Goodwill / sell for each day of Lent.
    Your post was a nudge in the right direction. Thank you for that!


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