Monday, February 16, 2009

A Meaningful Lent, Part 1: What to Give Up for Lent

The other day, Ramona told Betsy that instead of giving up sassiness, she was going to give up something meaningful.

But what does "meaningful" mean, and how do we enter into into Lent in a way that will really make it meaningful?

I start by pondering, "What to Give Up?"

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

But, I see no reason to debate. All we have to figure out is the answer to this question: "What will help me grow closer to God?"

On the "good" side of the debate are those who say we must give up "a good" or it's not a sacrifice (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 bad habit, such as complaining, smoking, caffeine) is just as difficult as giving up something good, and therefore, is a great spiritual exercise.

I hereby declare a draw. Both sides are right.

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

When we give up an addiction, we say 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 acts of love often lead to real and positive 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. ("Break out the chocolate bunnies! He is Risen!")

There's still a bit of room for debate: is chocolate an objective good or an unhealthy addiction? (Umm, okay ... so that's not up for debate. God invented the objective good of chocolate right after Adam, Eve and the amazing way we love our children. They don't call it the food of the gods for nothing.) What about moderate alcohol use? Blogging? Meat every day? Dessert every night? TV? Movies? Music?

There's often some overlap. I have to ask myself, "Am I addicted to what would, in moderation, be an objective good?" Perhaps, when Easter arrives, I'll find that God has helped me to let go of the attachment, and enjoy the thing as it's intended to be enjoyed.

That overlap is the reason it can be helpful to choose several things to give up -- something in the "bad" category ("God, help me get rid of this vice forever!") and something in the "good" category ("Grill a steak! Pass the wine! Celebrate the Feast!")

It's all so personal. What's easily managed for one person might be a torturous attachment for another.

That's why we really shouldn't debate about the "right things" to give up for Lent.

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


Next: Why Give Something Up at All?


Roxane B. Salonen said...

Excellent post, Karen. I'm going to be turning more spirit-focused during Lent on my blog, and have been contemplating these same things and how I might introduce them there. But you've done such an excellent job, I might just link to this post when I get to this part. What you've said here is real and true and I look forward to the next installment. :) I might link to that one as well!

Kimberlee said...

When we sacrifice by giving up 'good' things (snacks, sweets, movies etc) we practice mortification which gives us the grace to 'give up' or permanently cast off those things which are bad. One purpose of mortification is to develop stamina and practice resistance in order to be able to reist what is most important to resist: sin. I agree 'both sides' definitely go together.

Karen Edmisten said...

Thanks for your kind words, Roxane.

Kimberlee, thanks for your comment, too -- beautifully put, and more technically correct than my phrasing. Thank you for this addition!

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Why weren't these things explained to me this way back in college when I thought giving up something for Lent seemed plain ridiculous? There's so much meaning behind these intentional sacrifices. I'm glad to know now.

The Whiz Kid Forte said...

My plans for this Lent is to give up cooking anything with white flour. (I can consume white flour products, such as fried fish, as a special treat, but cooking meals with it is off limits for 40 days!)

Anonymous said...

Karen, I'm glad I found your blog. On this morning of Ash Wednesday, it's perfectly timely. You hit the nail on the head - the question to ask about Lenten sacrifice is: "What will make me more accessible to God's presence and action in my life?"

I have a history of taking on more spiritual practices, such as daily Mass, rather than doing a lot of renunciation. That's a great thing to do, but it's also a rationalization for the fact that I don't want to forgo the things to which my flesh is attached. So, Karen, you've twisted the knife of conviction in my gut.

Thank you for acting as a channel of the Holy Spirit in my life this morning. I'm not thrilled about it, mind you, but I'm grateful. I need to remember the Transfiguration -- everything else disappeared, and they saw nothing except Jesus Only.

Sharmane said...

Thanks Karen for a great post. I have always believed in your exact philosophy, but its great to see it out there so well put across! I do hope I will be able to follow your posts, they are very inspiring!