Giving up something is hard to choose, and giving up something for Lent can be a daunting task. Sometimes what I choose feels arbitrary and superficial. Some are good ideas, but not meaningful enough. Will giving it up bring me closer to G-d? Or just make me miserable for forty days? My feeling on giving something up is that it should be sacrificial – you should definitely notice that it’s absent. I won’t be giving up brussel sprouts or beets. I don’t eat them anyway. That would lack sincerity and significance. However, it should also not be something that is impossible to give up like driving or any number of things that you find indispensible.
I asked for help from my friends on Facebook, and I received some very good suggestions. In spite of their excellent responses, some of those very valid suggestions don’t (or won’t) work for me:
- TV? Then I’d miss family time. We watch most things all together and enjoy that time. I’d be abandoning them for forty days.
- Cable news? I don’t watch it 24/7 anymore, but I do need to keep informed, especially in this era of misinformation.
- Internet? Besides keeping in touch with my family, it is essentially my livelihood.
- Chocolate? Soda? Bread? Been there, done that. I’m not sure it holds the same meaning as the first time; at least not yet.
- Caffeine? And go through withdrawal? Too physically taxing.
- Ice cream? Maybe. My doctor would certainly like that.
- Bacon? Hmm. Possible. Very possible.
I do always add a spiritual component to my forty days in the desert:
- Prayer time.
I already read two devotional books throughout the year on a daily basis: Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2019 by The Irish Jesuits and A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His journals. I’ll be adding two more: My parish gives out a small book, Not by Bread Alone 2019: Daily Reflections for Lent by Mary DeTurris Poust. This takes about five minutes to read each day and provides a reflection and a suggested meditation to reflect on. We’ve used this book for a number of years and it really is a good way to meet G-d everyday. The second book is Lenten Gospel Reflections by Bishop Robert Barron, which was given to my by the person who will be sponsoring me on my Cursillo journey (more on that in a later post). This one looks to be short readings also and it has space for notes or journaling.
i’ve also decided to set aside $1 every time my family eats out or buys a non-grocery food item like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, etc and on Easter money donate all those dollars to my parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society.
I’m currently getting ready to attend Ash Wednesday Mass followed by a parish soup lunch. It is a really lovely way to begin Lent with other like-minded people, all on different paths but the same journey. It reinforces the community of the church.
In addition to my own commitments during Lent, Lent has three pillars of prayer, fasting (and abstinence), and almsgiving. Fasting and abstinence sound similar, but are very different in practice, and for me, Catholic fasting is much different than my decades of Yom Kippur fasting (which I still observe). Fasting during Lent is only required of those 18 through 59, and may include one regular meal as well as two smaller meals. Fast days in Lent are today, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Additionally, Fridays in Lent require abstinence from meat as well as other enjoyable sources, freeing us to grow closer to G-d.
My church also included a forty day calendar offering suggestions on ways to make Lent moe meaningful. It is provided from Take Five for Faith and I sill share it with you this weekend.
I will keep you updated on my progress and I hope you will comment with your own reflections and suggestions this Lenten season.
“But Lent is not a self-improvement program, nor is it a self-denial challenge, with badges to be earned for each day or week I manage not to eat chocolate. Lent is a time for us to be open to G-d’s refashioning of us.”
From Daily Reflections for Lent: Not by Bread Alone 2018 by Michelle Francl-Donnay
Typically I try to write my weekly reflection based on the Scripture readings for today, and I usually wait until after I’ve finished posting to read Michelle Francl’s reflections that I read daily. I don’t want to use someone else’s words as the basis for my feelings. Sometimes it’s inevitable because Lent is so universal sometimes the feelings and emotions brought up within each of us are also universal, and so we can’t help that sometimes we sound repetitive of someone else’s feelings and emotions. However, when I read these two sentences, it hit me so hard as much of her writing does, how she reaches into my mind and pulls out my thoughts. I’ve found someone whose voice I can recognize and understand.
My husband is not a practicing Catholic, and my children are “officially” Jewish even though we have always celebrated both religion’s holidays. I have been more religious than anyone else in my family for as long as I can remember. I grew up, not so much in a temple but in a shul where I learned the holidays, the songs, the traditions of being Jewish, and that is what I’ve followed with my own kind of care. Since becoming Catholic, I’ve become more religious, but it is a personal journey. Sometimes I involve my family, but often it is individual for me. For much of it, they simply don’t understand, and for the most part, that’s okay. When things come up, questions, I do my best.
Lent is hard.
Not the sacrifice or the willpower, but the simple answers of why are not so simple. Does G-d really care if you fast? I don’t think so. Like any other religious experience, it is individual, and it is between me and G-d, but ultimately it is up to me to do the thing and find the answers to the thing.
I gave up bread, so when I have a tortilla I’m asked why I’m eating bread (I really despise gatekeepers). Tortillas are bread nutritionally, but not bread for the purposes of eating bread. I won’t go into what is and isn’t bread, but I’m the one that gave it up and as long as I’m not parsing the definition, I know what I gave up and what I didn’t.
I don’t need a pat on the back when I don’t eat bread and I don’t need a hug when I do. I might include it in reconciliation or I might not.
Sometimes I do think that Lent is a self-improvement program. I can be a better person is I can take control of things. This is a good time to start. That would be great if this were New Year’s or the first day of spring. I have to continuously remind myself that the point of Lent is to grow closer to G-d. To eliminate what is standing between G-d and myself. If I give up bread and lost ten pounds (or thirty like the last time), that is not the focus. It’s a pleasant side effect, but how is not eating bread bringing me closer to G-d. Would giving up chocolate bring me any closer? Or soda? How are these things keeping me from G-d? Are they merely distracting me from Him?
I don’t know all the answers. I can only keep asking them, and hoping that through some discernment and prayer that I will receive those answers, or at least part of them like a puzzle piece to be placed and examined.
It is not self-improvement or self-denial, but for me, it is both and it is neither. It is many things at once, and it is only getting through it to the other side that I can find what I was looking for or see what I was being shown all along for the first time, and then I have the entirety of the Easter season to look back on it and contemplate some more, possibly seeing some of the things I may have missed in the rush to get through the Lenten sacrifice.
[Today’s Readings: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23, Psalm 137, Ephesians 2:4-10, John3:14-21]
I did have the thought on it before my priest mentioned the duality during my first Lenten confession. Yes, I said first. This was one of those seasons that needed more than one visit for reconciliation. Every time I cleared my conscience and received absolution, that pesky Lenten abstinence came and bit me in the willpower. Sometimes, it wasn’t even about the willpower; it was forgetfulness. In my four years of observing abstinence for Lent, this was the first year that nearly did me in. It truly was a reminder of the big picture and not so much the item given up.
I believe I’ve mentioned that it took me longer than usual to choose something to give up. I finally decided on bread, and then promptly forgot what bread was. it was in my mouth, and then I knew I was done for. I had been told, this year for the first time, that I could eat the forbidden item on Sundays, but I always seemed to forget that, and abstain on Sunday, and then trade it off for another day, like my son’s birthday or the parish Holy Thursday dinner, both Italian feasts that included the most amazing breads.
Not only that, but I even confessed to a priest who wasn’t my own for the first time. That felt weird, but I was on retreat, and wanted to be absolved before I began the retreat. I like beginning those with a clear head and heart.
So I gave up bread.
The reasons were two-fold. One was for the religion of it all. I have to give up something. What would be meaningful? The second reason was that bread was something my doctor wanted me to give up. I actually had given it up last year under doctor’s orders. That included all bread products, sugars, cakes, cookies, etc. Everything except flatbread. I lost nearly thirty pounds in three months of doing that. And then, I got lazy and complacent and gained it all back, and a little bit more. I thought that I’d try to follow the doctor’s plans as part of my Lenten abstinence and at the same time attempt to once again jump start my health care.
That is what Lent is about. Giving up something to make room for something else, in order to take on a new direction to focus. That focus is not only a benefit to my spirituality, but also physically. It is all connected.
Give up something; add something else. All for the greater goal of becoming closer to G-d, and keeping the positive action in my life when Lent ends.
For Lent, I didn’t give up all breads; just bread. Bread, rolls, croissants, bagels, French toast, English muffins, waffles but not pancakes. Not cakes or muffins or cookies, but pumpkin bread and raspberry swirl loaf. Corn bread, but not corn bread muffins or sweet cake. I would still eat flatbread as my doctor allowed during the first change. For some of them, as obvious as they are, I hadn’t realized what comprised of bread. French toast was the hard one. I love French toast. And bread pudding.
Not to brag, but I do have to admit that I made an amazing spinach quiche using broken matzo as a bottom crust. Everytime I’ve attempted quiche it’s been a disaster, but this one was spectacular. I’m planning on making it again before Passover ends.
Now the real question: In giving up the bread, what would I be taking on?
I’ve been keeping a Lenten journal since Ash Wednesday. I jot something in it every day; most days I have quite a lot, and if I left it off for the entire day, I wrote a little admonishment about forgetting or being tired, but I usually made up for it the next day, coming back to it two and three times or more throughout the day. There is no word minimum; just something contemplative, prayerful, meaningful every day. I have really loved doing this. I have already decided to continue it through the Easter season. I may keep it up as a prayer journal after that, but I will see how it goes through Pentecost.
Unless I had a retreat or a doctor’s appointment, I have also attended the daily nine o’clock mass. When I started attending those five years ago, they were something to do, something to keep my depression in check, to give me a schedule to adhere and then they became more. Now, I go because it’s Lent, but also because I miss going when I don’t. Whether the reason is that I’m busy or too lazy, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t go, and I really missed it in my life. It is a good beginning to any day.
For the past two weeks, I have added praying the rosary with the church group daily after those masses. While I have my issues with some of the political aspects of the after rosary prayers, I have still gotten something out of it for my spirit, and it has given me some incentive for working on my own prayer card for St. Elen, my name saint. It is in these informal prayer settings that I see how I, and anyone else can write their own prayers that will rise to the subject they are addressing, whether they be the Holy Mother, Jesus, the saints, or a family member deeply missed.
In giving up bread, however, I of course did not give up the Eucharist. For one thing, it is a flatbread, so technically it didn’t count for my purposes. It’s also not really a bread at all when it’s consecrated as Jesus. I also had to reconcile with myself the giving up of bread and then continuing to take the Eucharist during Passover which would be during the Lenten season and Holy Week. I have managed to separate the two that has worked for my purposes and conscience. The balance of the two isn’t quite a burden, but it is something that I do struggle with as I blend the two important observations without shorting either of them.
It was kind of perfect, though to give up bread. This is the season after all, that we are given life-giving bread; the season that celebrates its origins. While we receive it weekly, we are reminded of how it came to be during our Last Supper Mass. “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” It seemed appropriate that in giving up the bread of everyday, I was continuing to take the bread of redemption, of salvation. Every time I gave up a bread item during Lent, I was reminded of the bread I would receive each Sunday.
Every time I resisted a piece of bread or a biscuit, inside I smiled, not at my willpower or how wonderful I was to uphold my promise, but because of what giving up that bread represented. Instead of physical bread, I received eternal bread, and the taste of that lasts much longer and satisfies much more than regular, unconsecrated bread from wheat. I am nourished through the bread of Jesus, and it lingers with me throughout the day, and the days between my next taste.
Christ is Risen. Lent is over now, and I go back to my regular life. I hope that it includes regular masses during the week, and pausing when I eat my bread in memory of why I gave it up this Lent in the first place. It seemed apropos to substitute Christ’s bread for sustenance, and a never ending supply of faith and life everlasting.