As Lent approaches, you may be thinking about what to do. If you participated in Lent in the past but it’s been a while, you may remember giving things up or not eating meat on Fridays. These practices help make the season special, even if you don’t know why you do them.
In my youth, I would give up Doritos for Lent and eat potato chips instead. Looking back, maybe I missed the point, or perhaps those were the “training wheels” that prepared me for more grown-up Lenten observances. Either way, having a greater understanding of Lenten practices makes the season more meaningful.
Why Give Things up for Lent at All?
Giving something up for Lent—like sweets or social media—can help build anticipation for Easter. However, that isn’t all you can get out of the practice. Giving something up serves at least two other, more satisfying, meaningful ends if you do so with the right intention.
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The first of these is uniting yourself to the suffering and humanity of Christ. The second is bringing you closer to the joy of life in God.
Growing Closer to God through Suffering
A recurring theme at Operando is the imitation of Christ. In part, Lent is a reenactment of Christ’s going into the desert to be tempted, as detailed in Matthew chapter 4.
Jesus is spiritually perfect, but He had physical weaknesses and limitations during His time on earth, just like we do. As a result, fasting for 40 days must have been challenging for Jesus, just as it can be for us.
Everything that Jesus did during His earthly ministry, He did out of love for us. While we often focus on Christ’s imperceptible divine nature, imitating His human actions and activities can help us to understand and appreciate His love for us.
When you decide not to eat that snack or to go without meat, say a little prayer that your offering may, in some small way, bring you to a closer understanding of God’s love. There is also a growing movement toward donating money saved on things like meat and junk food to charities that combat hunger.
Finding Peace in God through Meditation
The second fruit of giving things up is finding greater joy in God.
Most of us choose to give up for Lent things that distract us or bring us hollow comforts or fleeting pleasures. By giving up these things, we can better focus on studying and meditating on scripture and searching for the true joy and lasting peace that comes from God.
If you give up an activity, like social media, video games, or a television program, consider spending that time in prayer or reading scripture. You might even find time in your week for an extra religious service. If you give up what you typically do to “escape” or “de-stress,” pray for peace instead, that you may find that comfort in God rather than earthly distractions.
Giving Up vs. Giving More
You can give up foods or pastimes that you enjoy. The Church doesn’t limit you to just one thing. For the extremely dedicated, programs like Exodus 90 encourage participants to give up everything from phone and television time to hot showers.
Of course, what you give up shouldn’t be something already sinful in nature. Lent can be a good opportunity to rededicate yourself to overcoming bad habits, but that’s not the point of sacrificing. Your self-imposed restrictions lift at Easter, so if you give up something you shouldn’t be doing, it’s tempting to start again afterward.
Some people suggest doing good things, like volunteering, during Lent, instead of giving something up. While this practice has good intentions, it can miss the point, partially for the same reasons that giving up sins wouldn’t make sense.
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If you decide to do something good during Lent, it could mean that you aren’t doing that right thing the rest of the year. Don’t let God’s work stop at Easter!
Giving up the first thing that comes to mind is still a rewarding gesture. However, this year, try to give up things that bring you earthly pleasure so that you can find that peace and joy in spiritual things instead.