When I was growing up, my family would always make a point of sharing with each other what we were giving up for Lent: ice cream, candy, soda, dessert. On Fridays we never ate meat. To this day I can't look at or tolerate the smell of those frozen fish sticks we used to have to suffer through for dinner.
I have carried this idea of giving something up through my adult life. When I was living in NY I always gave up beer and wine during Lent. Seeing that I do love my beer and wine, that was a sacrifice. But I can't say that I "got" anything out of giving up that beer and wine, that it aided my spiritual experience of exploring what Lent is all about. I did that fast out of habit and form.
As I have reflected on Lent and fasting, I wonder if what we are called to do is more about taking us out of the ordinary, putting us on edge, making more aware. Lent should be a time where we can slow down, explore ourselves, explore what is really important in life and what is not. Lent should be a time to shed ourselves of those things that get in the way of talking to, communing with, opening ourselves to God. Lent should not be a time to, by rote, give something up simply because that is what we are expected to do.
Perhaps instead of giving something up, we take something on. What is getting in our way of living the life we are called to live? This is not about self-flagellation or self-castigation. This is a season about deepening our relationship with God. Perhaps one of the questions we can ask ourselves is: Is there something getting in our way of achieving this? Another is: How do I simplify my life so I can hear God?
Copyright 2009, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.