At age 16, I told my father I was giving up going to church for Lent. At 19, I told him I was giving up my virginity for Lent. In the end, I was never that rebellious: I usually gave up chocolate, but it was a whole lot of fun to torment my ever-patient father.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized you don’t have to give up something for Lent. The Lenten period is a time where we prepare to remember Christ’s death and celebrate his resurrection to new life. We’re supposed to think about the ways we can strengthen our faith and help others as God comes to give us a second chance.
There are three parts of Lenten preparation, says Father Dave Dwyer of the Paulists: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. He gives the following example: Giving up carbs and losing 20 pounds may be great for you, but it misses the point of what Lent is about. If instead you give up going out for lunch, bring leftovers in from home once a week and then donate the money you saved to a charity, you’re in the Lenten spirit.
Instead of giving up chocolate, a few years ago I decided I’d try to go to Mass one extra day each week. The next year I decided I’d volunteer at the local foster home. To be honest, giving up chocolate was a whole lot easier. But giving of myself was a much better way to strengthen my faith.
Our time, attention and energy are the most valuable gifts we have to give. So this Lent, why don’t you consider doing something for someone and giving of yourself?
How often do you call your parents or grandparents? How about your aunts and uncles and other people who love you and care about you? My grandmother had Alzheimer’s for several years before she died. Phone conversations were often strained-she couldn’t hear me, she didn’t have a lot to say, and honestly, it felt a bit awkward for me. But those calls brightened her day. Our family visits gave her something to get dressed up for. It was a way that I could give of myself and make her happy. Reach out to your loved ones. Do something nice for them. Show them you care. It’s giving of yourself, but it’s the kind of sacrifice that will give you great rewards in return.
If the sacrament of marriage is something you feel called to take on in your life, seek it out. Don’t wait for it to come to you. Yes, patience is a virtue, but God helps those who help themselves. Perhaps this Lent, you might make a pact with yourself and God to better prepare yourself for a relationship with someone special. Or make an effort to go out and meet people who share your interests and passions-perhaps by joining a volunteering organization in your area (ticks off the old ‘almsgiving’ requirement at the same time!) Or put in that extra effort into your current relationship to discern whether this person is right for you going forward.
To Answer the Questionnaire, click here
3. Do you consider thinking about someone (who you are not married to) in a sexual way to be a sin?
4. Have you ever confessed “impure thoughts” to your priest?
5. How often do you have thoughts that you think are sinful or impure?
a) almost never
b) once a month
c) once a week
d) once a day or more
6. In your opinion, is this statement true or false?
“Fantasizing about a sexual act with someone I am not married to is just as wrong as actually doing it.”
One of the best ways to strengthen a relationship is by making memories together. Perhaps you and your spouse can make a pact to cook at home every night of Lent and donate the money you’ve saved up to a charity that is close to your hearts. How about praying together, or doing your own personal Bible study? Are you looking to take a vacation? Consider Habitat for Humanity or similar organizations where you and a team build houses and restore communities. Again, the Lenten sacrifice can be a way to do something, not just give up something.
I recently heard another interesting idea: Ask a close friend or a family member what they think you could do more or less of this Lenten season to bring you more in touch with your faith. I tried this: Interestingly, my friends’ suggestions were a lot harder than the minor things I was coming up with-but also on target and sincere. (Top suggestion: That I should only spend an hour on email compared to my usual (and obsessive) four hours, and instead make some more time for my hospital volunteer work). But be careful to pick someone who will take it seriously and not demand you give up random things just to torment you!
In the next column, I’m going to stir things up a bit and tackle that sensitive topic of “impure thoughts.” Where is the line between temptation and lust, and what can you do about it? Share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and take the poll on the right to have your opinions count!