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?