Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What to give up for Lent?

You sometimes hear the debate: Should we give up "something good" or "something bad"?

I see no reason to debate. We don't have to punch it out over this one. We just have to figure out the answer to this question: "What will help me grow closer to God?"

On the "good" side, are those who say we must give up "a good" or we're not sacrificing, a sacrifice being the giving up of an objective good for a greater good.

On the "bad" side, are those who say that giving up "something bad" (a habit, such as complaining, or smoking) is just as difficult as giving up something good, and therefore, can be a great spiritual exercise.

I declare a draw. Both sides are right.

The key's in our perception: if it's a struggle to give it up, we're inordinately attached to it.

By giving up an addiction, we're saying to God, "You are more important to me than this thing. I'm giving it up for You."

It's the act of love that counts. But, our act of love often leads to real behavioral change. When we offer an addiction for God, we find Him working on our hearts, ridding us of painful, controlling attachments.

In that sense, it's certainly an acceptable Lenten sacrifice to give up "something bad."

On the flip side, when we give up something that is objectively good, we get the joy of that thing's return on Easter Sunday. And this is a beautiful thing to experience. We see, in a small but concrete way, that sacrifice leads to Resurrection. (As I wrote in this essay, "Break out the chocolate bunnies! He is Risen!")

There's still room for debate: is chocolate an objective good* or an unhealthy addiction? What about alcohol (in moderation, of course)? Blogging? Meat every day? Desserts? TV or movies? Music?

There's often overlap. Are we addicted to what would be, in moderation, an objective good? Perhaps, come Easter, we'll find that God has helped us to let go of the attachment, and enjoy the thing as it's intended to be enjoyed. For example, there's nothing wrong with dessert. God invented sugar. But He didn't mean it to be the mainstay of our diet.

The overlap is why I often choose several things to give up -- something in the "God, help me get rid of this forever" category, and something in the "Break out the chocolate bunnies" category.

But, it's all so personal. What's easily managed for one person is a torturous attachment for another. That's why we can't really debate about the "right things" to give up for Lent.

If giving it up helps you grow closer to God, then it's the right thing for you.

*Okay, so this one is not up for debate. God invented the objective good of chocolate right after Adam, Eve and children.


Marydtp said...

Amen, sister.
I recently wrote about this dilemma as well. If giving up chocolate cake or a nightly glass of wine makes us stop for a minute and think about Jesus' sacrifice, then we clearly picked the "right" Lenten sacrifice.
Happy Super Fat Tuesday. Go eat some chocolate before Ash Wednesday descends upon us.

Liz said...

We're back to the giving up meat for Lent thing because it's simply too difficult to manage family meals when only one person does it, and one person here keeps the old Lenten fast. I've got at least one bad habit to work on AGAIN and one positive thing to do two if you count coming up with creative meatless meals for the whole of Lent). With all of that chocolate doesn't look like it's in the plan this year (even if my birthday does come after Easter for the first time in my entire life! I actually don't eat that much chocolate anymore(at least in comparison to my 194 pound self) but with Valentine's Day falling in Lent this year, it looks like chocolate might be an imprudent thing to give up. Of course when you still have an unopened box of chocolates from Christmas... and bags of Halloween candy still in the cupboard... Who was it that used to finish those things up anyway??? I mean, come on there are Reese's Peanut Butter cups and Snickers bars, and the Christmas chocolates are all smothered in dark chocolate. I still think of chocolate as an objective good, I really do. So why is there so much objective good sitting around here uneaten?

Liz said...

Boy, I should have previewed that one. My use of paragraph symbols is woefully deficient this morning!

Sarah said...

Amen, sistah! Thanks for this! :)

Courageous Grace said...

Hmmm...I gave up sodas this year. Is that a good or a bad?

Part of my reasoning behind it is because I am nursing (baby's not yet 3 weeks old) and all the junk that's in soda isn't good for him and part of it was trying to see if I can live without it. I had a horrible caffeine addiction (with really nasty withdrawal symptoms) before the pregnancy but managed to kick that and go to caffeine free sodas...now I'm trying to kick the habit all together....