Lent, happy?  But of course.  If Lent is meant to strengthen you spiritually and bring you closer to God, why wouldn’t it be a happy time?  It should be happy because it’s a holy time.  So, surely you should be wearing a big smile across your face until Easter. After forty days of increased holiness, you will be downright giddy by Easter. Or maybe not…

If you are not looking at Lent as a joyous season, then perhaps you are approaching it all wrong.  Lent is a time of giving up, right?  Or it could be a time of going the extra mile; doing something you don’t normally do, making sacrifices, etc.  But, if you look upon these forty days as primarily as a time of suffering, maybe it’s time for an attitude adjustment.

Take the “Self” out of Self-improvement

One common thing that people will do during Lent is to look at it as a time to exercise and lose weight. Once when I was speaking to a group of women during a retreat, I received a lot of feedback and confusion on making sacrifices. “If I need to lose weight anyway, what is wrong with going on a diet and just offering it up?”  That sounds fair enough. But it’s missing something.  By all means, offer your diets up to God. Offer everything up to Him; all that you do, your struggles and triumphs.

Those diets and exercise plans, however, are primarily for you and not for God. That is the problem.  And by the way, since most people fall off their diets, aren’t you setting yourself up for failure when you choose to diet and call it your Lenten sacrifice.  Then, when you fail at it, you’ve let both yourself and God down.  Perhaps that is the reason many people choose a Lenten sacrifice that is merely a diet in disguise.  They want the added will power and figure bringing God into the picture will be just the incentive to do the trick and help them finally get rid of those unwanted pounds and get back into shape.

The problem with such a plan is that it really isn’t about God, it’s about you. Thus, it is selfish.  If it is going to be about God, then that does not mean making that a sacrifice involving food is off limits. It merely means that it should be a real sacrifice to strengthen your soul and not just something done to make you look better in your clothes.

What’s the Difference?

The difference between a sacrifice for God and something that is merely an exercise in self-improvement is the mindset and the way you go about it.  For instance, if I decided I’m going to cut out desserts and lose weight in honor of Lent, then what should I have for breakfast?  A tasty and simple meal that will hopefully satisfy my taste buds, but not be too heavy in calories?  Well, if it’s tasty who is it tasty for?   If all I am looking for out of Lent is the added will power to make it to the next tasty low-calorie meal without snacking, then holiness is not my real motive. I am looking to God to pump up my dieting will power.  In such a case, I am not giving but taking (or rather using).

Ouch, those were some incriminating words. But take heart. This is not an indictment but rather an invitation to look at Lent with a new perspective.  Let’s get back to that breakfast of mine.  If I have a hard-boiled egg on toast and a banana, a cup of milk and some herbal tea, that’s a simple yet healthy meal.  I once read that this is exactly the breakfast Mother Teresa used to eat every morning sans the herbal tea.  One idea, for making this a real sacrifice – doing something hard for God and not for myself – is to take the egg off the toast.  If I eat a piece of dry toast and then eat a plain unsalted egg, I’ve consumed the same food, but I did it in a less enjoyable way.  The food then was for me – my own nutrition – but eating the egg separate from the toast was a sacrifice for God.

The above example might seem a bit silly.  What difference does it make if I eat the egg on or off my toast?  The difference is whom I am doing it for – God or me?  It also might seem silly to think I’m making myself holier or the world a better place if I keep that egg off my toast.  I’m not suggesting that this is now how everyone should be eating their eggs during Lent. I’m merely trying to show how it’s not so much what we are doing for Lent, but why we are doing it.

Set our Sights on God

When it comes to fasting, there are many ways we can make sacrifices.  Fasting strengthens our spirits because when we do without something, we empty ourselves of worldly pleasures to make more room for God.  There are many ways of fasting.  Here are just a few:  give up TV or Facebook, don’t wear make-up, skip the morning coffee, stay off the phone, fast from gossip, or make one sacrifice at every meal like skipping something you want.

Lent is known as a time of sacrifice and I’ve given reasons why sacrifice is good, but of course this is also a time of giving alms, praying more and doing more spiritual reading. Or maybe this can be a time to volunteer and do something for others.  We need not limit ourselves to one little thing since there are many ways to grow spiritually. No point in being stingy with ourselves.

The key for Lent is to make it God-centered and not self-centered. If we set our hearts on God, then we can approach Lent with the right frame of mind. In the Magnificat Lenten Companion book my husband was kind enough to hand out to others and me for Lent, I read this reflection.

“As long as I conceive of myself as alone and as lone as I conceive of God as far away from the truest and deepest longings of my heart, I will always sin. I will continually set my heart on things that will never answer its infinite longing.  Zacchaeus set his heart on wealth, the adulteress set her heart on a fleeting feeling of love, Nicodemus set his heart on his good reputation; it was only the presence of Jesus which opened their hearts to something more. It was not their own strength, but the gaze of Jesus that changed them…. Our hope is not in our strength, but in gazing upon Christ who first gazes upon us.”

In other words, growing in holiness is about forgetting self in place of God. The key is to gaze more on Christ this Lent. There are many ways to do it: making a sacrifice and offering it to Him, serving Christ through serving others, connecting with Him through prayer, spending time with Him in adoration, or listening to Him through Scripture.  One thing about Lent I know, it’s not time to be stingy. After all, why just do one little thing when really we can do it all.

Have a holy and happy Lent!

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