Many people, even Catholics, often don’t understand the meaning of a Lenten sacrifice. I have often overheard people sharing what they gave up as if trying to compete or show off who made the “harder” sacrifice. It’s important that we don’t lose sight of why we continue this Catholic practice.
I am about 20 weeks pregnant with our third child and I recently went in for a sonogram. The sonographer offered me chocolate chip cookies and told me all the girls in the office had given up chocolate for lent. I mentioned that I usually give up chocolate but this year I chose to give up listening to music in the car along with facebook. She said she could understand giving up facebook but laughed at me for giving up music in the car. I explained to her that while certain music can be very inspiring, uplifting, and even motivating, I realized that I was spending a lot of time listening to music in the car every day. Every morning and afternoon for my 45-minute commute to and from work I usually listen to the radio. I recognized that those 1 ½ hours each day could better be spent praying or talking to my kids in the backseat. This Lent I wanted to work on incorporating more quiet and meaningful prayer time into my life.
During Lent people often give up something that is meaningful or that they enjoy. While giving up coffee, television, or sweets, for 40 days is difficult the point of Lent is not to just feel desperately deprived for 40 days. The purpose is to help us grow closer to God. When I give up something for Lent I want it more than I ever did before because it is now out of my reach. Every time I start to crave that chocolate I gave up I turn that sacrifice into a prayer. Instead of focusing on how delicious it would taste I turn my focus to God. Each time I crave that which I gave up I am reminded to offer my suffering to God. Also, by giving something up and refusing to give in I exercise control over my desires. Every time I am able to walk away from chocolate and not give in to the temptation, I become stronger in my ability to let my mind guide my actions, and not be led by my bodily desires. However, the reason I did not give up chocolate this year is because the sacrifice we endure during Lent is not meant to be temporary. To give up shopping for Lent and then indulge in a shopping spree the day after Easter does not leave a person with long-term spiritual benefits. Sacrificing during Lent helps us become stronger in mind and spirit so that we can say “no” to the things that keep us from God. If I watch television on a daily basis and have no time for prayer, then it would make sense to sacrifice television during Lent. Once Easter has passed, though, I should keep prayer as a priority and watch only a moderate amount of television. What we give up during Lent should continue to improve our lives after Easter Sunday.
Whatever you may have given up for Lent this year, remember that your sacrifice is not meant to be torturous for 40 days. Your sacrifice is your opportunity to become stronger in your faith. Every time your sacrifice becomes difficult remember the sacrifice that Jesus Christ endured for you.
I pray that this Lent you are able to see the fruit of your sacrifice and experience a deeper relationship with God through your sacrifice.