When my younger brother was about five years old, he decided to give up apples for Lent. Yes, you read that correctly. Apples. Now, before you make a judgment on how simple this might be, let me clarify. He really liked apples. To him, this was a sacrifice. And he didn’t shy away from it.
Growing up, we would often have breakfast for dinner on Sunday nights. And frequently, instead of making pancakes or waffles, my mom would make her special German apple cake — which doubled for a great Monday morning breakfast.
Now, my brother, being the rule follower he was, decided that even on Sundays he would not eat apples. If I remember correctly, a few of us tried to convince him otherwise. But he steadfastly refused to eat the cake and successfully fasted from apples until Easter.
Moral of the story: Lent doesn’t have to be complicated. And yet, as adults, we tend to go in with the wrong perspectives. Either we zealously take on too much and burnout quickly, or we stick to the no candy rule and call it good.
When was the last time you (talking to myself here) truly went into Lent with the right perspective? As my roommate recently reminded me, Lent is not supposed to be take-two on New Year’s resolutions. It is meant to prepare us for Easter. So, who do we want to be when Christ rises from the grave? How about more loving, more free and more generous people?
Maybe it’s time for a refresher course on the three practices we are called to take up during Lent.
Look at your prayer life. Does it exist? Has it gone on vacation? Remember that, at its core, prayer is how we maintain our relationship with God. And just like any other relationship, it comes down to love.
To put it in perspective, we are talking about the God of the universe: the one who breathed us into existence, suffered an excruciating death for us, and guides us through our everyday decisions. If we can’t make time for the lover of our souls, we desperately need to reevaluate our lives.
Now, depending on your state in life, this does not mean that you must squeeze in a holy hour every day. But it could mean that. Or it could mean taking 15 minutes each day with Scripture. Or saying a Rosary while nursing your infant in the middle of the night. In the end, give the time you have, and let God enter into your daily moments.
So, ask yourself, how can I love God better?
Fasting is ultimately about freedom — the freedom to say no to some things in order to say yes to something else. Without knowing it, everyone is addicted to something: sugar, social media, entertainment, sleep, exercise, comfort, etc. And without fasting or intentionally depriving ourselves of these things — which in and of themselves are not inherently bad — we create a dependency on them instead of relying on God. And when we learn to say no to good things, we are cultivating the virtue to say no to sin, even in the disguise of a simple apple.
Usually I’ve fasted from particular foods with the ulterior motive that they would be good choices in health. But once Easter came around, I was back to eating without conscience. It did little to change my perspective. Then one year I gave up sleeping with a pillow. Now, for some people, this would have been detrimental to their health. For me, it was simply a sacrifice in my desire for comfort.
So, ask yourself, from what do I need freedom?
For me, this is always the hardest one because you have to go out of your way to accomplish it. And while donating online to a specific charity is a great idea, I think embracing the call to go outside yourself is a challenge we should accept. For some people, that is taking the time to write a letter each day to someone in their life. Another example: This year, I’ve prompted a number of my friends to go through their closets and gather their new and gently used clothing that they never or rarely wear. While some of these articles of clothing may be exchanged, most of it will be donated to a women’s care shelter — physically requiring me to drive it somewhere.
So, ask yourself, how can I give of myself this Lent?
In the end, these Lenten acts don’t have to be complicated. All they need is the right perspective.
Ava Lalor is assistant editor for Our Sunday Visitor.