So begins another Lent. Today we’ll be marked with the ashes as a symbol of our repentance and a reminder of our mortality – a custom that dates back to Old Testament times. For the next six weeks, we’ll be “giving up” things in a effort to purify ourselves and draw closer to God. Ideally, it should cost us something so that we can, in our own little way, share in the suffering of Christ.
As a kid, the practice of giving up something for Lent meant very little to me. Already living with dietary restrictions, giving up candy or deserts didn’t have any effect on me because I wasn’t allowed to partake of them anyway. So, while my friends were kibitzing about what they were going to give up for Lent, I found myself out of the picture. What’s the use of giving up something you don’t usually have anyway?
As I got older, I devised a different strategy for myself. Rather than give up things, I decided to give up behaviors that separated myself from God or pledge to practice ones that would draw me closer to him. Instead of giving up candy, I gave up negative comments. Instead of giving up soft drinks, I gave up ignoring people when they spoke to me, especially if it was someone who could get on my nerves. Instead of giving up deserts, I gave up hitting the snooze button and added 15 minutes of spiritual reading to my daily schedule. Instead of giving up a favorite food, I pledged to do at least one act of unmerited kindness each day. I didn’t give up goodies for Lent; I gave up being aloof and indolent.
I’ve tried to carry that through with my own family. When Lent rolls around, I suggest that they think of things that would make them more Christ-like, bring them closer to God, and deepen their spiritual lives. I do mention that it sure doesn’t hurt to give up something material, but I don’t emphasize it. I’d prefer to see them striving in magnanimity for spiritual goods rather than levying inconsequential restrictions on tangible ones. I’d like Lent to be a time of heroic striving and true conversion for the Fenelon Clan. and so my point to them each year is this: If it gets in your way of coming closer to God, give it up.