Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday: "What Should I Give Up?"

“Proclaim a fast,
call an assembly;
Gather the elders,
All who dwell in the land,
Into the house of the Lord, your God,
And cry to the Lord!”
Joel 2:14

A few years ago, while I was homeschooling, I belonged to a Little Flowers group. This was a little girl’s group that focused on the emulating the virtues of various saints. Back then I “only” had 3 children. Most of the other mothers had 4 or 5. They all had a wonderful sense of humor, and some of the things they said I am just “getting” now!

One of the mothers said I was on the cusp of having a large family, and that I would cross over to that membership when I had another one! Now I know what she meant.

On Ash Wednesday of that year, we all got together for a liturgy. One of the mothers said, “I think I ran out of things to give up!” Now I know what she meant.

Mothers of large families are used to sacrificing everything for their children on a daily basis. Most don’t drink, smoke, or otherwise carry on notoriously bad habits. Some will go without a winter coat so their little one could be better clothed. Most barely have time to brush their hair and put makeup on in the morning.

The question of what to give up has always been difficult for me. I have always had a sound nutritious diet and believe dessert has a healthy place for families. So food is not first on my mind when it comes to self-sacrifice.

In recent years, many ministers have encouraged people to make a positive sacrifice rather than a negative one. Instead of giving something up, they say, try to do more charity, pray more, and be a better person. I have seen this feel-good philosophy be embraced and see it as a “cop-out”.

Giving more to the poor, praying more, and doing charity work above and beyond what you give during the rest of the year should be a given, just like during Advent. Sacrificing something is hard. Christ gave of himself during his entire lifetime on earth and at the end He made the ultimate sacrifice.

He never complained about doing miracles. But when the end was near He had to ask His Father for help in what was to come. This type of sacrifice is the spirit they we are trying to emulate during Lent. We will never come close to what He gave, but we can enter into that realm in a small way.

I like to look at Lent as a chance to become more like Christ. I try to effect a permanent improvement rather than a temporary one. Giving up a vice for a short time is like going on a crash diet, rather than making a change in lifestyle that will last. Where I give up a vice, I try to fill it with a virtue.

One year I gave up yelling. This was really hard. I replaced yelling with calmness and gentleness. I told a friend to increase my accountability. When she asked me how I was doing, I could honestly say I hadn’t yelled – much – and thought I could make a permanent decrease in the amount of yelling I did.

Some positive giving can be good for everyone. You can clean out your closets of all the clothing you and your children do not wear, and donate it. You can clear out your glassware cabinet of extra cups, utensils, etc., and donate it it to a thrift store or food pantry. Clear out your shelves of books you don’t plan on reading again or that the kids have outgrown, and bring them to your library if they have a recycled book program. Have the children go through their toys and stuffed animals, and donate them.

You feel good for clearing out clutter, as well as for the fact that someone else can make good use of the stuff. All that “stuff” has an effect of weighing down your spirit. Remember that the disciples were only allowed to keep one coat.

Praying more is something we can all do, and should do, and not just for Lent. (“Pray without ceasing.”)

I have tried to be encouraging here without any pretence at self-righteousness. “But take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 6:1)

Those who are excused from fast or abstinence:
"Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment, manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline."

To find out all about Ash Wednesday click here.

To find out about the 40 Days for Life campaign click here.

Painting above:
Christ in the Wilderness Attended by Angels
Charles de La Foss
oil painting

1 comment:

Leticia said...

Elizabeth, you did give some wonderful ideas even for us 'sainted moms'. I know that no yelling would make a BIG difference to my kids! I'll add it to my already long list.