Thursday, February 23, 2012

A lesson in sacrifice ... or why I'm not giving up shit for lent

I grew up in a Catholic family, attended Catholic school and lived (I swear) in one of the most Catholic cities in the country.
From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, my life was ruled by sacrifice, Boy Scout fish fries, the Stations of the Cross and the desire for what I couldn't have -- sausage links and candy. Or pop. Or hitting my brother. Or ice cream. Or whatever else I had decided to give up for Lent that year.

Even as my religious "practice" waned, I still kept up the ritual of giving up something for Lent. I liked to think it made me a better person and that I was doing it for the glory of God. But let's get real. I was doing it for myself as a way to kick off a diet or renew my healthy lifestyle.

For 40 days, I would give up soda or potatoes or candy and then, on Easter Sunday, I'd hit up the brunch buffet at Granite City and eat my weight in Carmel Rolls and Reggiano Hashbrowns. Total fail on sacrificing for God and total fail on improving my eating because all I was learning was to restrict and purge.

When I realized that Ash Wednesday was this week (thanks to my college roommate for reminding me/giving me an "Oh shit" moment), my immediate reaction was to start thinking of what to "sacrifice" this year.

Enter completely non-nonsensical thoughts of a sleep-deprived mother.

I could give up ice cream, especially the three bites of Mark's I eat each night, because Lord knows I don't need it. Wait. I could give up Diet Coke because that devil aspartame is going to make me need teeth whitening. Or what about macaroni cheese - kryptonite to my carb-loving self. It tasted way too good at the hospital the other day and it's really too easy to make shells and cheese for a side dish. Hot chocolate. Maybe hot chocolate? I know there are way more calories in that cup from the vending machine even if it is teeny tiny.

And then I realized that the only person/deity I was thinking of was myself. If I really wanted to do something for God, I would move my long runs to Saturday and go to church on Sunday. Or at least think about going to church and not running. (Don't even get me started on the notion that it would be me pretending to be pious for a whole 40 days.)

On the flip side, if I want to do something for myself - if I want to make positive changes - I don't need to wait for the black cross on my forehead for the go-ahead. I can do it any time as long as I set my mind to it.

Lent - what are your thoughts?


  1. As a Catholic, I love this post. And thanks for the lenten ideas - I've used my kids as an excuse to NOT go to church regularly for too long. It's time to start making it a habit again...

  2. I'm not Catholic, so I don't know if I'm allowed a big opinion on this, but it really bothers me when people use a religious time as a diet or social experiment. Good for you for recognizing that and doing what feels right for you!

  3. I love this, I wasn't raised Catholic but joined the Catholic Church before my hubby and I were married. I loved going but life has somehow gotten in the way and we rarely go anymore. I sometimes feel guilty about not giving something up, but then I realize that like you said, its not really about God. For most Catholics, whatever they give up for lent is either for themselves or a mindless challenge. I don't get how not eating candy will bring my closer to God.

    My hubby was raised pretty strict Catholic, we used to try to at least avoid meat on Fridays - but again, we have moved away from that. We are "bad Catholics" but we are sort of okay with it. For us, our religion/spirituality isn't determined by the church.

    1. I love the fact that your religion/ spirituality is not determined by the church. I have given up on the whole concept of "church" too many hyypocrites hide behind religion and like to tell me what I am doing wrong but not look at them selves.

  4. You make excellent points about Lent! I am guilty of having given up Diet Coke one year, and drive-throughs another! I wasn't raised Catholic but converted 10 years ago, and since my kids are old enough to "get it" and are encouraged to give something up by their Catholic school teachers, I decided last year I would no longer give things up. And while I get the concept and purpose of sacrifice, for me - it was always all about me. So now I do something extra to improve my relationship with God during Lent...attend a daily Mass each week, spend an hour in adoration, etc. I think it does a better job of teaching my kids that the real goal is to grow closer to Christ in the weeks before Easter.

  5. I ran across an interesting idea for Lent the other day here: Skip down to "40 Days, 40 Vegetables."

  6. You know I'm giving up sweets (which is more for me), but we're also committing to going to church. I'm usually a C.E.O. Catholic these days, you know Christmas and Easter Only. We really need to be better. We may even drop by the fish fry one Friday.

  7. I like the challenge of giving something up... so I engage in Lenten denial of self only for that reason and no greater religious purpose. I'm not particularly "religious" anymore but in my church we always talked about Lent as more a time to reflect on your relationship with God rather than giving something up.

    Anyhow, even though I am engaging in my own "Lenten challenge" I love this entry and the true notion that anytime is a good time to do something for yourself!

  8. Most people don't know that 40 days doesn't include Sundays. So you are allowed to give up something for lent everyday except the sabbath.

    I'm a catholic, and I never give up anything for lent. In fact, I think the art of giving over the course of forty days is far better than giving up a type of food or drink. I don't go to church either. That doesn't make me a bad catholic neither is abstaining from lent.

    What I intend to engage in is random acts of kindness over this period - and be kind to myself, too by getting my act together on my running and exercise schedule.

    Love your blog :)

  9. I grew up Lutheran and we didn't give anything up for Lent. Before I married my husband I converted to Catholicism but I'm pulling the pregnancy clause this year and not giving anything up.