That black smudge on your forehead two days ago said it all.  You’re Catholic.  It’s Lent.  And you have 40 soul-searching days of self-sacrifice staring you in the face.

Do you give up sweets?  Again?  Do you dare think about going without alcohol or caffeine for that long?  Maybe you feel you should give the tv a rest until Easter?  All are definitely worthy Lenten sacrifices, but sometimes it’s what you give rather than what you give up that makes you a better person and helps you reconnect with your faith.

In full recognition of my spiritual fallibility, I’ve chosen over the past several years to challenge myself.  For 20+ years I gave up sweets for Lent.  It seemed like the Jesus-stuck-in-the-desert-with-the-devil-for-40-days thing to do, as I was known to be tempted by just about any confection.  But I decided roughly 3 years ago that I wanted to “Do” instead of “Do without.”

Time has become something increasingly precious to me, an elusive gift.  Especially now that I’m married and have two children, one of whom is a toddler.  How often I’ve uttered, “There just aren’t enough hours in a day!”  SO often.  Because I have SO much to do.  Don’t we all?  Or is that just a story we tell ourselves?  How much of what we feel we “need” to do is really just meaningless stuff we convince ourselves we should be doing.  –Because of some warped sense of how things are “supposed to be.”  Most of it is more likely to be personal baggage we hopelessly fail to prioritize, leaving us scrambling to get things done at the last minute.  I can honestly say that not all of my time is well spent.  Can you?

Enter this illuminating idea:  Add something to your already lengthy to-do list.  Something of “quality.”  Thus your Lenten purpose becomes two-fold: Not only are you sacrificing your “precious” time, but you’re also doing something pro-active in the name of God/the church.

Ideas often spring willy-nilly into my mind.  It’s how I work and why I need to constantly write things down.  And since these Lenten ideas have been bouncing around in my cluttered head and begging to get out, here they are:  Attend mass at least one day during the week, in addition to your Sunday obligation.  Take part in the Stations of the Cross.  Pray the Rosary. –Daily, weekly or as often as you can.  Visit the sick, homebound or elderly.  Volunteer at a local shelter.  –Animal shelter, women’s shelter, homeless shelter, etc.  Sit down and read the bible with your kids.  Pray with your spouse.  Write letters of gratitude to deployed members of the military.

You can do one of those things, some of them or all of them.  Or none of them.  It’s your choice… your sacrifice to make.  And if that means you’re giving something up for Lent, then, Great!  Embrace it.  Do it purposefully, not sullenly.  And, hopefully, something wonderful will grow out of these Lenten “obligations.”  They’ll cease to be obligations and become choices.  Long-term choices.  To live a better life.  Not necessarily for anyone else but yourself.  And God.  After all, he’s kind of at the center of it all.

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