Why I Observe Lent

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For 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus walked the desert, facing temptation in a time of need; For 21 days, Ghandi refused to eat in peaceful protest and penitence; For 25 days, Cesar Chavez fasted to protest pesticides. People have practiced periods of self-denial for thousands of years, and for various reasons, usually to bring about change. Even today, there is a movement of minimalism, or choosing to live without certain items one previously believed one needed. In the midst of this growing trend, I can’t help but wonder if denial truly yields a cathartic experience as well as change.

Even when I was a little girl, I practiced Lent; I’d give up candy or Cokes (kind of), or sometimes, something I wouldn’t really miss, like broccoli, to try to imitate Jesus and be more mindful of my choices. Mindful is another buzz-word lately, with so many people distracted, overloaded and overwhelmed with food, products, activities, you name it, people yearn for peace and presence. During Lent, I have occasion to think twice about reaching for that Snickers bar or slice of cheesecake, or whatever else I don’t truly need. After 40 days and 40 nights without, do I really need it? 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been somewhat better at observing Lent, but nowhere near perfect. Nowadays, I don’t always just give up some unhealthy food item; some years I make a promise to be more active at church; one year I volunteered as a Sunday school teacher and attended extra Mass during the week. I guess, in a way, it’s giving up something…giving up free time.

As a mother, especially of an infant, it can feel like all you do is give up…give up your time, give up your body, give up your rest, give up all your love to this one precious child. What better reflection of love in general than to be a mother or caregiver? There can be such joy in this, but it probably is not always evident at the time; at the time you may just want to cry, scream, and run away all at the same time. But once that difficult stage is over, and you make it through the tunnel to the other side, you realize each and every blessing you have, and you emerge stronger.

Lent is a microcosm of this; it is practice for facing greater sacrifices and challenges down the road. It helps you realize that now is the time to be joyful, this very day. It helps you reset and refocus after a season of indulgence. It brings excitement and anticipation for the greater good to come. I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait until Easter…and Reese’s eggs!

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