Making Sense of Lent

April 5th, 2022

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

When I was a boy growing up in a Catholic family, the adults would ask each other that question just before Ash Wednesday rolled around. Usually, they would say that they are giving up sweets or some other snacks. A bold few would promise to stop smoking, or maybe even drinking. It always sounded to me like some kind of spiritual endurance test. Each person was going to white knuckle it for forty days. Then they would all go back to doing whatever they liked to do until the next season of Lent.

It seemed to me that whatever sacrifice they made was an act performed solely out of a sense of duty. They were fulfilling a requirement, and often doing it grudgingly. I never got the idea that they were giving something up in order to help somebody else. It was just something they did to satisfy the perceived demands of God and the Church.

A few days ago, I wished some Muslim friends, “Ramadan Mubarak”. That phrase means a “Blessed Ramadan”. The Muslims are fasting from dawn to dusk every day for a month. No food or water until after sunset. That’s pretty hardcore, especially in comparison with how I might fast during Lent. I told my friend, Mohammed, that I would never be able to do what he does.

He just shrugged and said, “You’d get used to it.”

He’s probably right.

My wife, Karin, commented that it seems like all religions have periods of fasting. I think she’s right. I know that my friend, Ken, who is an Orthodox Jew, has several days of total fasting during the course of the year. That’s a bit rough on him. He’s eighty years old.

So, what is the point of fasting? What is the reason for giving something up?

Years ago, Father Richard gave a homily at church about this topic. He told the congregation that if we give up something, it should be in order to better give to somebody else. In essence, I give up something I want so that I can give another person what they need. That makes total sense to me.

Making a sacrifice of any kind should increase the amount of love in the world. If I give up something, that act needs to benefit others. It doesn’t need to be a sacrifice of heroic proportions. Every small act of selflessness makes a difference, sometimes a surprisingly big difference.

What am I giving up this Lent?

Well, I am giving up the same thing that I have been offering up for months now. I am giving away my time.

Karin and I care for our toddler grandson fulltime. We give him our time whenever he needs it. Our schedule is his schedule. When Asher needs a new diaper, I stop what I am doing and change him. When Asher is hungry, one of us feeds the boy. When he cries, Karin or I hug him. Right now, Karin is putting the lad to bed. Before I finish writing this essay, Asher will have interrupted me at least half a dozen times.

That’s okay. We are giving up our time because we love Asher. Karin and I also give away our time to each other, so one of us can rest. We do that because we love each other. We make sacrifices for love.

Love of God and love of neighbor are two aspects of the same love. Giving up something for love of neighbor is the same as sacrificing something for love of God. I find it hard to love God as God. It is easier for me to love Asher or Karin. I have to love God through them.

At the end of Lent, I won’t stop giving up my time. Asher will still need me to do that. Karin will too. That’s okay. When I make a sacrifice out of love, then it really isn’t Lent anymore.

It’s already Easter.

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