We give up sweets.
We give up coffee.
We give up Facebook.
Give up, Give up, Give up.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t see Lent as just an opportunity to deprive myself of the things that I have come to enjoy. We all know the question that comes up from your Catholic friends as you’re eating that Fat Tuesday Pazcki:
“What are you giving up for Lent?”
We typically just think Lent is about giving something up. For me, Lent is about more than just fasting from something I enjoy. I like to take from each of the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Those sweets you’re giving up? That’s an example of fasting. So why are we just settling with fasting from something we enjoy, when we can take it one step further? Here are some examples of what I like to do for Lent. (Of course, these are in addition to the requirements of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving set by the Catholic Church. I have added links to that information at the end of each section.)
Of course we should always keep up our prayer lives, but Lent gives us this awesome opportunity to go deeper. I don’t know about you, but keeping up my prayer life is hard. Over time I start to treat prayer like a “nice thing” to do, like working out or eating healthy. In reality, prayer is our lifeline, and Lent gives us a great opportunity to reconnect.
In 2013, I started a new Lenten tradition for prayer. Each day of Lent, I pick a random person on my Facebook friends list and dedicate my daily prayer to them. I sit down and meditate on the daily Bible readings, and then pray for the person. Then I write a hand-written letter of affirmation to him/her. I have found that this is a really great way to reignite the fire and everyday relevance of prayer in my life, but it’s also a really great way to take time for others.
For more information on prayer in Lent, click here.
FASTING & ABSTINENCE
This is where giving up sweets comes into play. Fasting of course means that on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we aren’t eating meat, and when we do eat it’s only one big meal and two snacks. However, I like to think of when I’m choosing to give something up, like sweets or Facebook, it’s my own personal 40-day fast. I don’t fast because I'm masochistic or anything; I fast because when I lower myself and feel uncomfortable, it brings me closer to Christ. When I'm empty, Christ will fill me.
For information on fasting & abstinence in Lent, click here.
The idea behind almsgiving in Lent is simply, charity. In giving to those in need, we are Christ to others. Unfortunately for me, giving money to charity just isn’t realistic, because I’m a broke college kid. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t participate. During Lent, I usually find a few shirts/dresses/etc. that I donate to the Salvation Army. This way I’m still giving a form of alms, even though I can’t really afford to give my personal money. Of course if you're able, you should definitely donate money to charity.
For information on almsgiving in Lent, click here.
These are just a few examples of how you could engage more in Lent. Of course, there are so many ways you can do it too. The real point is that we need to be intentional about our giving, and why we are doing what we are doing. I think the reasons why I do all this for Lent can be summed up in one popular Scripture quote.
“He must increase; I must decrease.” –John 3:30
Lent is not just about decreasing myself, such as depriving myself of something I love. It’s about increasing God in my heart and in my life. It’s all about heart. We must decrease of ourselves, but in order for him to increase in our hearts. Be intentional about why you fast. Don’t just check a requirement off on your “Lent list”. Really give of yourself, with the intention of growing closer to Christ and deepening your relationship with Him.
In Lent, we die to Christ, so we can rise with him on Easter. We are centered around this beautiful self-giving; that is the crux of our faith. That’s why we are an “Easter People”.
Stop just “giving up” on Lent. Don’t just give up, give your heart.