“What did you give up for Lent?” is a fairly common question asked during these forty days.
Unfortunately sometimes people can become trapped in one of two thought processes in their choices to “give something up.”
For some, Lent is the same every year.
“I give up chocolate because that’s what I always do,” or “I will go to Stations of the Cross each Friday at church.” While these sacrifices are good and I am in no position to judge an individual’s intentions, there may be something lacking in repeating the same thing each year.
For others, some try to “outdo” last year’s sacrifice.
For instance, one year I gave up all types of drinks other than water, the following year I fasted every single Friday, the next year I gave up meat. For me, I took the sacrifice a little too far. Not only was it extremely difficult to follow through with the sacrifice, it made me bitter and unpleasant at times, causing others around me to have to make the sacrifice of dealing with my attitude.
Neither of these approaches call to mind to true purpose of the season of Lent.
The first doesn’t challenge the individual enough to step outside his or her comfort zone. The second puts the individual’s focus solely on the act itself and the degree of difficulty.
In fact, just the other day, I was asked, “What did you give up this year; you are usually pretty intense…” I was a bit taken back by that and thought to myself,
What are you trying to prove?
Have I been trying to prove something myself, to others, or to God by what I give up? While I questioned my intention for this year’s sacrifice, I ultimately came to the realization that I focused on something that was becoming a vice in my life—coffee. In the months leading up to Lent, I realized that I was becoming more tired and more reliant on that boost of caffeine that comes with a cup (or 6) of coffee a day. Therefore, my intention was not to “wow” God but to rather have Him “wow” me. By detaching myself from something different, I challenge myself to break free of a certain human desire.
The purpose of Lenten sacrifices
Lent is not meant to be a personal diet plan or a way to show off how much one loves Jesus through his or her sacrifice. The fasting and abstinence that we partake in are meant to draw us deeper into a relationship with the Lord by undergoing some form of sacrifice, some form of suffering. Our intentions for choosing a sacrifice must be rooted in that truth. After all, sacrifice and suffering connect us to the One who sacrificed and suffered all for us.
Matthew Higgins is the Assistant to the Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Newark. He received his Master’s degree in Systematic Theology from Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University. His 10+ year ministry experience includes Junior High Faith Formation & Youth Ministry, Young Adult Ministry, and Campus Ministry. He has also spoken at various youth retreats, parish events, and conferences for college/graduate students at both Catholic and secular institutions. Above all, Matthew is proud to be a husband and father.