How to Decide What to Give Up for Lent

Confession: I just Googled “what to give up for Lent.”

The almighty Google offered links to some decent advice, for instance in this blog by a Catholic youth ministry and even in this BuzzFeed quiz (go ahead, give it a shot).

But here’s the thing I have to remind myself about the almighty Google: it’s not actually almighty. And it certainly doesn’t know me. It’s not that powerful and it’s not that personal. The Lord, however, is powerful and personal.

So, first and foremost, take the question of “what to give up for Lent” directly to the Lord.

In prayer, reflect on resources like these:

1. The temptations Jesus himself faced in the wilderness (Mark 4:1-11) — temptations to provide for himself, take pride in himself, and have power for himself. Consider: Do you ever think you couldn’t possibly live without ample provisions, praise from others, or positions of power? That you need something that maybe you don’t actually need?

Sometimes these habits are so ingrained in us that it’s hard to think in abstract terms and may be easier to think in concrete terms. So, think of it this way: When you’re a bit stressed, what do you turn to? Chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, TV, social media, sex, and the list could go on. These things are inherently good. But they’re not God. The problem is that we turn things like chocolate and Netflix into God when we think we need them — when we turn to them before turning to God. (Case in point: my turning to Google before turning to God today. Maybe I should give up Google for Lent…we’ll see.)

What’s more, these things we turn to can be mind-numbing rather than life-giving. When turning to them, we say we’re vegging, chilling, “tuning out.” I’ve been doing this a lot; just ask my roommates. This Lent, I’m hoping to seek less of the mind-numbing and more of the life-giving.

2. The 7 deadly sins — pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, lust. I used to think of the 7 deadly sins as cliched and even comical, maybe because I read Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus twice in college. They seemed like such grandiose sins that I could suppose I’m not a total lazy bum or gluttonous pig, so I’m off the hook. But, life and liturgy and especially my church’s “examination of conscience” pamphlet based around the 7 deadly sins have made me re-envision these sins as concrete realities in our day-to-day lives.

According to one “examination of conscience,” pride includes failure to worship God, trust God, pay attention to God (e.g. through prayer and study), glorify God through work and daily life, and steward generously what God’s given me by giving to others. Envy includes maliciousness, contempt, annoyance when others are praised, and pleasure at others’ misfortunes. Anger includes cruelty and hostility, prejudice and bigotry, rudeness and nagging, pouting, disrespect, insensitivity, and refusing to pray for or do good to those I feel are my “enemies.” Sloth includes neglecting or putting off social and moral responsibility, ignoring the needy or those “difficult to get along with,” spending too much time on self-entertainment. Avarice includes idealizing “the good life,” IMG_1282patronizing others, stealing, cheating, and giving bribes. Gluttony includes over-indulging in food and drink, as well as neglecting healthy disciplines of rest and exercise. Lust includes ingratitude or disrespect for the holy way in which God created us after his own image, unfaithfulness to my partner, sexual exploitation, and immodesty.

That sounds like a lot. And it is.

Just see which 1-2 stand out to you and let that be a deciding factor in what you give up for Lent. Spending too much time on self-entertainment? Maybe try less Netflix for 40 days. Over-indulging in food and drink? Maybe try less of a particular type of food or drink.

Get creative with your Lenten practice.

And, above all, get connected through your Lenten practice to the God who is far more powerful and personal than Google, Netflix, chocolate, and all else that we turn to.

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