I’m not Catholic! Why should I give up something for Lent?
“I’ll quit smoking!” “I’m not going to eat meat.” “No more swearing for lent – catch me do it and I’ll put a quarter in the jar!”
Are you scratching your head over this one? This traditionally Catholic practice can actually be a practice to deepen your Lenten practice and your connection with God.
Lent is the 40 days before Easter. Well, technically, more than 40 days since Sundays aren’t included. Way back in the early church people who wanted to become Christian spent years studying and preparing for the day. Being Christian in Rome in those days was pretty serious stuff – they were often persecuted. Preparation was pretty intensive and ended with a final period of purification and enlightenment before they were baptized on Easter. That last part of preparation – the purification was a 40-day process. Then rest of the Church began to observe the season of Lent in solidarity with these newest Christians. It became an opportunity for all Christians to remember and renew the commitment of their own baptism, and to remind themselves of the value of repentance. The austerity of the Lenten season was seen as similar to how people in the Old Testament fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3).
Over the centuries Lenten practices have developed into much more. Many Christians consider it a time to replicate Jesus’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days, and a time of repentance. We ponder the ways we’ve turned away from God in our lives, and focus on turning our hearts and minds back toward God. The three practices of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – spiritual practices which help us turn away from whatever has derailed us and guide us back to God.
Giving something up is ultimately a form of fasting. We can deprive ourselves of some small pleasure or indulgence and offer that sacrifice up to God. Or we might “give up” a bad habit such as smoking as a way of positively turning our life back toward what God wants for us.
An experience of want, however temporary, can help us to appreciate the true abundance in our lives. And a small positive change can have a big impact that lasts beyond the 40 days of Lent.
Take time now to think about what you might give up this year. Is it something you enjoy that you want to sacrifice for a while, like your daily latte? Or is it a bad habit you want to overcome, like grabbing some cookies when you’re stressing? Maybe you turn your cell phone off for a while every day and spend the time in deeper connection with the people you love. Find something that works for you. Whatever you choose to give up, I pray that your 40 days bring you to a deeper connection with your faith and your God!