Personalizing Lent

The period of Lent within the Catholic Church begins tomorrow and lasts until April 6th. Lent is often described as a time of preparation and an opportunity to go deeper with God. This means that it’s a time for personal reflection that prepares people’s hearts and minds for Good Friday and Easter.

Have you heard about people giving something up during Lent? The purpose of denying ourselves during Lent is that by denying our bodies certain wants and comforts, our minds will be filled with thoughts of God.

Although I’m not a traditionally religious person, I love the concept of Lent. I love the idea of looking within and seeing if there is something I want the challenge of doing without for a specified period of time (40 days, not including Sundays). To me, it’s a wonderful way to experience a re-awakening of why I love the thing I gave up for Lent. In addition, I love succeeding at a challenge I create for myself.

An important aspect of what I sacrifice for Lent is to keep it to myself. Like a random act of kindness, our sacrifice is made much sweeter if we don’t brag about it to others.

Giving up something for Lent is almost trendy for some. “I gave up Starbucks for Lent. What did you give up?” “Oh, I gave up chocolate.” I guess chocolate is the epitome of sweet treats. Fasting is a powerful yet common sacrifice during Lent. Fasting and abstinence during specific days during Lent are obligatory for faithful Catholics.

There have been several times over the years where my challenges to stick with giving up something went the way of my New Year’s resolutions. I couldn’t hack being without Starbucks, or whatever that deleted thing was. While I learned about myself in these times, the memory of disappointment lingers.

Expanding a Spiritual Practice

When I give up something from my material world, be it one big thing or several small things, I’m strengthening my connection to spirit. I’m creating within myself an expanded space to be filled with my definition of spirit, including communing with others, time in nature, meditation, and sacred solitude.

By denying myself one thing, I am affirming something else. By giving up Starbucks, for instance, I can affirm that coffee can be replaced with tea for a renewed appreciation of dark roast when I go back to it, or I can affirm that that cup of coffee isn’t missed if I spend time with friends.

Attaching an action to my denial during Lent also increases my spiritual community. Every time I deny myself something — either one of those large or small sacrifices — I can commit to an action that confirms that denial. For instance, if I give up Starbucks during Lent, I can commit to donate the money I would have spent there to a local worthy cause.

Will You Participate?

Lent begins tomorrow. You don’t need to be religious or even spiritual to get something out of giving up something for 40 days. But 40 days is a long time, so be realistic if this is the first time you’ve given up something for Lent. Also, be sure to attach your denial to a specific action as a reminder of why you’re making the sacrifice. Perhaps you’ll give up watching the negative and depressing news. In return, spend some time each of the 40 days doing for others with your increased free time.

What will you give up for Lent this year? What will you deny yourself in order to increase your connection to a rewarding life?