Growing up, my family always gave something up for Lent. I remember many years where each of us would choose to give something up, but we would also choose to give something up as a family. I never really thought anything of it until I got to college and learned about all the different ways individuals “give something up.” Some people I knew had never given anything up. They frequently assumed I was Catholic because I did. (I’m not Catholic.) Some people gave things up just during the week, and could indulge on Sundays. Some people, like me, were strict and tried their hardest not to waver.
For me, giving something up is more about sacrifice than penitence. I have listened to Krista Tippet’s “On Being” talk with Thich Nhat Hahn several times, and his discussion of suffering always resonates with me, especially when he said, “[w]ithout suffering, you have no ways in order to learn how to be understanding and compassionate.” My faith is something I struggle with frequently, but one thing I know is that I am so darn fortunate. I don’t have to worry about things like what to eat for dinner, having warm clothes, sleeping on a comfy bed. In fact, I spent more money last year than I would care to admit on unnecessary things like makeup.
So, for me, I use Lent to remind myself that giving up something small and simple may seem like nothing for me, but that thing would have so much importance for others. I can give something up, without complaint or regret, because others are living without. They are struggling to get by. Whenever I reach for the thing I want but told myself I couldn’t have, I am reminded that others would be reaching for that thing out of necessity. It brings out my compassion. It reminds me of others instead of myself.
Last year I tried to do 40 random acts of kindness for lent. It was difficult. Harder than I thought it would be. I’m not even sure I made it to 40. At some point, I felt like I was “counting” things that I would have done normally anyways. I also learned that going out of your way to be kind can be incredibly moving. Anytime I hear stories of extraordinary kindness it makes my heart feel like it’s going to burst with happiness. I need to do that more– share kindness, celebrate others, give back.
So this year, I’m giving up two things I looooooveeee: bread and milk products (which, for me, means mainly cheese). It seems silly right? I eat bread every day. It’s probably my favorite food. I love cheese. I love finding new fancy, stinky cheeses and having a few slices with a glass of wine. But do I really need these things to live? Certainly not. And Lent is that reminder that I can go without.
My goal is to make a donation or do a random act of kindness for every time I am tempted to break my fast. I want Lent to be a reminder of how fortunate I am. I’m not giving something up to torture myself. I’m giving something up so I can get a tiny taste of the suffering of many in our world. I’m fasting so that I can be more compassionate.
Do you give something up for Lent? What do you give up? What are the “rules” you follow?
Do you “add” something during Lent? A devotional? Random acts of kindness?