Mardi Gras rolls around every year, and every year I think “Oh shoot. What am I going to give up for Lent this year?”
Now, for starters, I suggest that you consider what your Lenten practices are going to be before Fat Tuesday, but hey, we’ve all been there and just because Lent is right around the corner doesn’t mean intentionality is out of the window.
I think we all may be guilty of “just picking something to give up” now and again, but in doing so we miss out on the beautiful opportunity that Lent provides us.
Ultimately, Lent is a season in which we prepare to receive the gift of our salvation anew. To do so, we must detach ourselves from worldly things and strive to love as God loves. If we choose our Lenten practices well, they help us to do exactly that – detach from the world and open ourselves up to receive the love of God more fully and to love him more perfectly.
Are all Lenten practices equal (in the sense that they bear the same fruit for everyone)? I would argue not.
So, here are a few questions to pray with and reflect on when choosing your Lenten practices this year.
1. Is this actually a sacrifice for me?
Jesus gave everything on the cross, I can do something that is inconvenient or causes discomfort.
If giving up sweets is a sacrifice for you, then go for it! To be honest, that is one of the last things I want to give up, and the added grief I get from others thinking it isn’t “hardcore” enough makes the sacrifice a good opportunity to grow in humility too!
2. What distracts me most from what is really important and how can I address it?
Although the #1 obvious answer to “what is important” here is God, this question can also be expanded to what our state in life is, or where God has asked us to serve specifically. By staying faithful to what He has called us to (in terms of vocation, career, etc.) we are actively loving Him.
Here are a few more questions to consider: Does scrolling through social media take away time you should be spending in prayer? Does watching Netflix cause you to neglect opportunities to serve family or take care of daily chores? Do you focus too much on other’s faults (or your own) and fail to see Christ in them? Do you complain as opposed to recognizing the opportunity God has provided to offer a small sacrifice for love of Him?
3. How can it help me to love?
We always need to direct our actions to God and others, our practices shouldn’t be done selfishly for ourselves with no impact on our relationships.
Here are a few more things to consider – what your Lenten penances should not be:
- They should not be something you’ve been meaning to do anyway. For example, you have been meaning to go on a diet and therefore will give up sweets for Lent. Or, this could also be spiritual practice related too.
- Practices should not be chosen (or avoided) for those around you and they should not negatively impact those around you.
- You should not compare penances or brag about them. We all need work in different areas!
Lastly, consider making your Lenten practice a forever practice!
If you are giving something up that is distracting you from God, it’s probably a good idea to just give it up altogether. Or, if you are convicted you should be praying a daily Rosary for Lent, then consider making that a regular part of your spiritual life post-Lent. There is no reason to stop doing the good habits we form during the season.
And with that, I bid you all a happy Lent! A thank you to Fr. Dennis Conway for his help in writing this article!
Still Can’t Decide? Try This Quiz!
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Photo credit to Eduardo Montivero.