Going to a Catholic grammar school and growing up in an Irish Catholic family made me extremely aware of Lent and its traditions. Every Fat Tuesday, everyone pigged out eating everything that they were giving up for Lent, and then some. Year after year, I cut French fries and pop out of my diet for 40 days and once those days were over, I went right back to my old habits.
Many people believe that this was the proper way to observe this religious holiday, and I did too for the majority of life. One Sunday before Lent began, my priest gave his homily on why you shouldn't just give anything up for Lent and here's why.
Jesus Fasted for a Reason
In case you aren't familiar with the background of Lent, it's based off a story of Jesus in the bible. After he was baptized, Jesus went into the desert to fast and reflect for 40 days and nights and during those days, the devil appeared to Jesus to tempt him to turn rock into bread.
He resisted the urge to eat for 40 days and nights even though he was able to do it, so the least we could do is resist eating a chocolate bar for 40 days, right? Wrong. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus wasn't fasting in order to prove how strong his willpower was, but instead he did it to reflect on his spirituality and grow as a person with his faith.
Be More Like Jesus
People tend to believe that giving up junk food is appropriate for Lent, because who doesn't love junk food? It definitely is a challenge to our willpower, but ultimately that isn't the point of Lent. That's because the 41st day rolls around and you're right back to your old habits of shoving potato chips and chocolate bunnies into your mouth with little to no change in your life. The true purpose of Lent is to grow and to change like Jesus did in the desert. How do we do that, you ask? Well it's simple: stop giving things up.
Make a change that will force you out of your comfort zone. Do something that brings you closer to others that are much different from you. Whether you decide to volunteer once a week at your local soup kitchen or make a vow to pray the rosary every night, actions like these help to develop your character as a Christian. Something as simple as going to mass every Sunday during Lent or doing something as simple as holding the door for the person behind you or saying thank you to people who do the same for you.
Best of Both Worlds
After 17 years of following the tradition of giving something up, Lent just feels weird without it. Check out some ideas of what to give up for lent that isn't food. Combine this sacrifice with the promise to do something nice for someone every day, and you'll be set for Lent. Instead of watching an episode of Netflix, call or text a friend you haven't seen in a while. Refrain from buying that $5 coffee from Starbucks and set aside the money to donate to your favorite charity, or if you desperately need the caffeine, pay for the person behind you.
I found that after realizing alternative ways to celebrate Lent, I was much more satisfied at the end of the 40 days. Rather than just doing it for yourself, you'll be helping others. No matter how small the new habit it, it can really help improve someone else's mood or even their life. After seeing the benefits of your actions, those 40 days will not seem nearly as long as they used to and you may just continue on with your new lifestyle.