You don't have to be a Catholic to love Lent. Heck, you actually don't even have to be a Christian. I think anybody with a bent for personal growth could benefit from the practice of abstinence. No, it doesn't have to be sexual. In a nutshell the idea behind Lent is to give up something difficult in effort to understand sacrifice. Lent is defined as: a period of fasting, penance, and reflection on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It lasts for 40 days (not including Sundays) beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter. Lent began Wednesday, February 17, 2010 and ends Saturday, April 03, 2010 this year.

When we were youngsters "fasting" meant something silly like giving up ice cream, or something imposed by adults like meat. Food isn't a bad place to start with Lent, but I encourage you to kick it up a notch this Lent season. The absence will do you good. You will wonder at the end if you really need the thing you gave up. More power to you if you can give up sugar for life, or caffeine, or how about smoking?

Things You Will Need

You will need a pure heart and a sense of adventure. Do this with some passion and sincerity. Passion for the personal growth involved. Think about something you would seriously miss. How about your cell phone? The bill would be a lot less, especially if it's a pay as you go. Or how about TV. Think of all the time your family might start spending together, talking, sharing, getting to know each other in lieu of watching other people do things on "reality" shows. Most of the stuff on TV is sarcastic and callous anyway. Would you really want to sit down with Jesus and see any of it?

Go into this with sincerity. Would it be so bad to emerge a more Christian person at the end of the season. Last year for Lent I gave up having the last word. It wasn't as hard as I thought. It required some discipline. And I lost every fight with my husband. But the world didn't end and I didn't die. The truth is I don't even care to have the last word any more. This year I'm giving up on having an opinion. I do not have to judge everything that comes my way. Especially events and relationships that no one has asked my opinion of. Family gatherings have never been so easy. My older brother wants to know what I think of my dad's girlfriend moving in. How can it be? he wonders, that this person has no lease, no furniture of her own, what happened to her home? I have no opinion.

I work at the Post Office part time. One of my duties to organize the parcels that come in every day, in numeric order so that when the boxholders come by to pick them up we can locate them. Most people have parcels delivered from time to time, but a couple of my boxholders receive items on a daily basis! I often wonder how they can keep finding things they need. It would be so refreshing to see these people give up shopping for Lent. Of course the fragile economy might grind to a halt. But still, it would only be for a season, then they could get right back on it.

I used to attend a chauvinistic church nearby my house. In the five years I went, never was a woman asked to lead prayer. Only once was a woman asked to give the sermon. If a female had a question, it was answered by a man. The church board was all men too. I think it would have been cool if they could have given up some of their ego for Lent. Had a little penance and reflective meditation on the way they sort of bullied people. Submission can be beautiful if its natural and from a pure place. It's not so pretty when it stems from being afraid of backlash or ridicule.

But the women were not without their faults. I like to think Jesus would love to see people give up gossip for Lent. Gossip after all is listed in the bible as a sin. Meaning, it "misses the mark" (the literal translation of the original word for "sin.") Who does gossip help? It merely makes the speaker feel superior and the subject of the gossip uncomfortable. If there were anything constructive about the conversation at all, it wouldn't be labeled gossip, and it wouldn't be hurtful and dismissive.

If you do feel you want to give a food for Lent, you might consider the fasting aspect. One friend of mine has decided to stop eating after 4pm. Another way to do it, is to not eat between sun up and sun down. You can always eat a light meal before dawn, and dinner after sunset. Trust me, you won't starve. Most people in the Middle east do this practice for all of their holy month. There are fasts, and there are fasts, some people give all food and drink. Some find it acceptable to have liquids, which could mean a protein drink is ok. Some keep to water with a bit of lemon.

Step 1

In the spirit of reflection, it's nice to read the bible during this time period. You may be surprised with what you see. You can start with the New Testament. It's short. Or divide the bible by the number of days in a year, you could easily get through the whole thing by reading only 3 to 5 pages a day, no matter what translation you are looking at. You could read just the parts marked in red, signifying what Jesus actually said.

Step 2

If bible reading is not for you, you could meditate for your penance and reflection. Some people use a candle to help them focus. In a semi dark room, light one and stare at it while you think. Some people close their eyes to meditate. Some people stare at a blank wall. Don't try to think about nothing, but au contrere, try to focus. Slow your heart and your busy mind down for at least half an hour. You will find the benefit pleasant.

Step 3

Give up being petty, mean spirited and self centered. In this recession so many are hurting. Donations are down. Find a family to help personally rather than going through an agency. One on one help is the most satisfying. Buy them one week worth of groceries, or give them a gift certificate for the store they normally buy food at. Help an unrelated child with their homework. Do housework for an elderly neighbor. Offer to take your friend's dog on your daily jog. Take someone out to lunch who can't afford to pay for themselves. Let your kids see your generosity. Don't just give away crap you don't need/use. Buy something brand new and nice to give away. Or buy a gift certificate so the receiver can chose their own stuff.

Lent is a wonderful season. Would that we could all remember all year to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Tips & Warnings