Go ahead, give up chocolate for Lent

An old woman asked a young girl—her name was Cassidy, if I remember right—what she planned to give up for Lent. Cassidy said she was going to give up popcorn.

“Popcorn!” the old woman scoffed. Pathetic! In her day, girls used to do real penances, make real sacrifices, she said. Cassidy should give up all desserts, at least. Or chocolate. When she was a child, she gave up chocolate, she said.

Cassidy mumbled that her dad would make her popcorn every night and she ate it while they watched basketball on the couch together. It actually sounded like a large and meaningful sacrifice, but the old woman’s message had hit home. Her Lenten practice was not good enough. It was childish, not meaningful.

The moral of this story? If someone asks you what you’re giving up for Lent, run away!

Or, an even better moral: When you’re deciding what to do for Lent, be childlike, not childish.

Here’s what I mean. When someone argues “Don’t just give up chocolate for Lent” they are using shorthand for the idea that giving up some little food treat is a cheap and childish way to sneak through the season. They’re saying that it means we’re just checking off the “sacrifice” box and skating by, and if we expect some kind of true spiritual growth, we should be seeking something more meaningful and profound. Rather than giving up chocolate or something else, we should be adding something, some spiritual practice, some good works, some new and challenging way of approaching the day or each other or God.

And this may be true. Sometimes when people “just give up chocolate for Lent,” it’s because they’re doing the easy, thoughtless thing. Sometimes it makes sense for us to urge each other to dig a little deeper, look a little harder at our spiritual lives, and think a little longer about what the Lord is asking from us.

But this year, in particular, feels different. And I think it calls for a different approach.

We’ve all been through the wringer, in one way or another. Lots of people have had their faith shaken, and we may find ourselves facing Lent 2022 with especially low enthusiasm and especially ramped up cynicism. Many of us are grieving. Many of us are physically healing, or still suffering. It has been a soul-crushing, exhausting time of constant risk assessment, constant weighing of expectations against reality and the constant wretched need to question other people’s trustworthiness—all while still trying to keep alive some spark of hope and good will toward our fellow man. When is the last time it hasn’t been Lent? And now you’re telling me I need to impose some new wound, this time self-inflicted?

That’s how I feel. But in my heart of hearts, I know that is not what Lent is meant to be. So I find it helpful to ask myself, when I’m discerning some spiritual practice: Is this childish? Or is it childlike?

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2 thoughts on “Go ahead, give up chocolate for Lent”

  1. I’m not sure where I draw the line between childish and childlike but so long as the exercise ends up bringing a person closer to Jesus I’m not sure it matters.

    For many years, I was nearly overwhelmed by the chaos in my life so I’d commit each Lenten day to removing from the house one bag of stuff – i.e. trash, clothes, old toys, etc. Using “God as a stick” really worked – I’d picture Jesus on the cross and I just couldn’t think of a good excuse to keep any one specific thing. And come Easter the decluttered house would clean up much more quickly for Easter entertaining. I suppose that’s why I chose daily decluttering in the first place.

    In recent Lents, I’ve been doing full fasts on Fridays and Ash Wednesday. And yeah, I look better in my jeans come Easter and that’s probably why I’ve been choosing this particular sacrifice, but the fasting practice itself *is* difficult. And it’s impossible for me to get through a fasting day without focusing on Christ’s sacrifice.

    So childish or childlike? Fortunately for me, I’m not too bogged down by deep thoughts and will partake in the spiritual exercise of fasting knowing full well the bonus (healthier, skinnier bod) is why I choose it. 😉

    1. For several years now my family has a simple lenten menu for each weekday – so the same thing every Monday, the same thing every Tuesday, etc. It’s tasty and filling, but simple, and it gets old after a couple weeks. But it simplifies my life so much. No meal planning, no worrying about sales (because it’s pretty cheap food). Shopping is easy. It’s a small penance, but it helps declutter my mind, I think similar to you decluttering your house. Just small things to help us focus on Christ, and those small things can make a big difference.

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