I always thought Lent was a battle of my own will and proving to myself (and to others) that I could "give up" something(s) for forty days, but reading Fr. John Hollowell's article "Fallible Tips for Lent", I realized that Lent is just making promises to God.
Here are Father's nine tips to Lent and my thoughts on each one:
1. Don't tell people what you are giving up for Lent. (This does come up in casual conversation sometimes and it really only struck me as something personal when I asked my daughter what she was giving up for Lent and she replied, "Some personal stuff.")
2. Don't ask people what they are giving up for Lent.
Don't try to guess what someone gave up for Lent either
(Dave: "Bill, you want some coffee?"
Bill: "No thanks."
Dave: "What, did you give up coffee for Lent?" - don't be Dave!) (Seems innocent enough, but when you really crave the ONE thing you can't have, well it just might send somebody over the edge!)
3. If someone breaks #1 or #2 with you, don't correct them (although if you are giving up a few things, you can just mention one thing you've given up to satisfy their curiosity). (Chocolate.)
4. If someone offers you something that you have given up for Lent, I advise proceeding in one of two ways, depending on the situation
a. If it is a situation where you can casually brush off the offer without drawing attention to it, then just decline the offer
(example: "Dave, I'm going to the concession stand...do you want anything?"
Dave: "No I'm fine."
Dave does not have to say "No, I gave up candy and snacks for Lent.") (In my head screaming: "I would kill for a piece of chocolate, but no thanks, I gave it up for Lent, even though I've already broken that one!")
b. If it is a situation where you are with a small group of people, or you are at someone's house for dinner or something like that, and they offer you dessert or something, just take it and don't tell them "Sorry, I gave that up for Lent." If someone gives up TV but the whole family is watching TV, don't go sit in the other room, just watch TV and be with the family. (My husband has full control of the remote while I sit at my laptop writing, playing games and, um, shopping. Hey, we're spending time together!)
5. Don't replace what you are giving up with some other thing that you are attached to (Oh dear!)
6. Take advantage of the detachment to do something positive like prayer and/or doing something to help the poor. (I'm working on this one, but old habits die hard!)
7. If you normally celebrate Sundays and Solemnities during the year with a spirit of feasting, then continue to celebrate those days during Lent. If that involves breaking something that you're fasting from, then break your fast. However, if you don't celebrate Sundays or Solemnities, then don't break whatever you are fasting from during Lent. (It wasn't until a few years ago that my husband told me I could break fast on Sundays. What? You tell me this thirty years into our marriage?)
8. Try giving up several things up for Lent, but maybe phase them in over time like the Orthodox. For the Orthodox, Lent gets gradually more challenging. I have tried making Lent more challenging as it progresses, and that has been really fruitful! (More challenging? Oh dear, God! I'll be lucky to get through the basics!)
9. It is also good to DO something for Lent; to add a spiritual practice to your daily routine in addition to giving something up. Perhaps praying a daily rosary or praying every morning when you get up. (This one I can do. Sort of. I have Magnificat's 2013 Lenten Companion downloaded on my phone and I LOVE reading it daily, but sometimes I do forget, so I try to do it at the same time every day.)
As I bit into that seemingly small piece of innocent chocolate, I will remember one thing: I just broke my promise to God.
It's going to be a long Lent.
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