Matthew 6:16

"When you fast, do not look gloomy..."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Deciding What to Give Up for Lent

If you are contemplating giving something up for Lent, you may find yourself caught between trying harder to do as you should, such as not gossiping, and doing something extra, like fasting from potato chips.   A nun whose blog I really like a lot suggests that if it is something we should do, like not eat red meat because of our cholesterol count or something, we should do it on our "own time", not Lent, since the purpose of Lent is to draw closer to God, not to become healthy, pretty, or whatever. (You can check out her blog by clicking here.)  She suggests it should be something over and beyond the oughts.

I don't agree.  I've taught my students for almost two decades that things like playing with a little brother who gets on your nerves, or letting your older brother watch his favorite show without arguing about always having to watch Power Rangers is a fitting "cross to bear" because we draw closer to God by show love to people He loves.   I know that some of that is what they should be doing anyway.   But Lent puts it in a perspective that makes it a gift to God, and therefore there is more of an incentive, and gives them a six week time frame.   No, I don't think that after Easter a child can start yelling at his little brother to get lost, or grab the remote from his older brother.  Just that six weeks of practicing patience might bring them closer to God so that they want to show love for their brother, even though they are no longer bound by a Lenten promise to color and / or keep their hands off the remote!

I picture Lenten sacrifices as a sort of gift to God.  No, not one that He needs, but He may just like getting all the same.  Since God is our Father, He'd answer the question of what He wants in terms of what is good for us.   For example, I remember as a child, asking my parents what I should get them for their anniversary.   They answered that they want me to get a perfect score on my Spelling test.  Why?  Because they knew that I was perfectly capable of doing so, but sometimes just a little lax about studying.  What they really wanted was for me to do the best I could with my abilities.   The proof of this is that when I was in seventh grade, the gift request changed to a passing grade on my weekly Math test (Pre-algebra stunk!).   They knew I could get a passing grade, but was so overwhelmed by not being a "star" any more, I had given up.   The present they wanted from me was to not give up, and do the best I could with the gifts I had been given.

Does that mean that was all I gave them?  No, I saved up for a card, and perhaps some tacky vase or something they displayed with pride.   But the BIG deal to them, what REALLY pleased them, was doing what they essentially knew was good for me.   I picture God having the same reaction.

God the Father:   Oh LOOKIE!   She gave up gossiping to become closer to me!  I'm so glad!  This will improve her relationship with my other children, big time!
Angel:  Yeah, yeah....  She shouldn't be gossiping any way...   But you know, she also gave up sweets, which actually aren't a sin, as a gift to you.
God the Father:  Yes, that is rather cute.   My little girl sacrificing Bavarian creams because she loves me is kind of sweet.   But in the long run, her learning not to gossip is going to bring more peace to her and some of my other children than anything else she'd have chosen!
Angel:   Okay... Whatever you say... If there is anything I learned over the last couple millenia, it's never to try to make sense of the way a Father sees His children...

(I posted this imaginary conversation between God and an Angel during Lent a couple of years ago. I'll probably repost it later, but here is a link if you are interested now)

I enjoy reading a blog called Ironic Catholic.  She wrote a tongue in cheek list of what we can give up for Lent.  I share it with you here because it does point out the idea of giving up something we may be more attached to than we ought to be, which is really the point of giving up sweets or fasting of any kind.    The point is growing in Love for God.


  1. Great post, Helen. I don't have much to add. You already said it all. Now to think seriously about what this Lent will be for me.

  2. Thank you, Sarah. I'm going to have to choose something other than the Bavarian creams. I haven't had one in so long, I probably wouldn't have any during the six weeks of Lent anyway at this point, so it hardly works out to give it up for Lent! :-) Although if I did run across one during Lent and wasn't giving up sweets, I'd probably pass it up and let someone else have the best donut just to keep in the spirit of Lent. :-)