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What Are You Giving Up For Lent

Ash Wednesday

My dear encountered couples:

What are you giving up for Lent?” I’m sure you’ve been asked that question before. What do you answer? There’s a priest without a housekeeper who was asked that question. “Father, what are you giving up for Lent?” “I’m giving up washing the dishes,” he said. That is something we’d all like to give up.

There’s enough child in us that our approach to lent remains childlike even in our later years. We try to think of things to give up. Will it be candy, desserts, TV, what will it be? That’s what a child asks. As we get older the objects change but the question is similar. What will I give up, we ask ourselves? Will it be cigarettes, booze, or sex? Whatever it is we decide, giving up something seems to make us feel like we’ve gotten into the spirit of Lent. We are doing something to reform our lives.

That’s good. But as the old song asks when the reality of a dream is experienced, “Is that all there is to that?” Is all there is to Lent the giving up of something? To deprive ourselves, starve ourselves, punish ourselves. Is that Lent?

It is reported that Voltaire, the famous French author of the 18th century, once bragged he had broken all the 10 commandments. Voltaire was not one to take belief in God seriously. But if he would start believing, I wonder what he would give up for lent. He wouldn’t have to look far. He could quit swearing and cursing, stop hurting his parents, no more killing and stealing, no telling lies or gossiping. He could give up all those lifelong, sinful things he bragged about. And he could keep the Lord’s Day holy by going to Church or doing some praying. But I wonder if he’d stop there. Do we?

Giving up bad habits – sinful habits are very necessary. Our eternal life depends on it. Giving up things that aren’t bad or sinful, like candy, can teach us self-discipline, help us learn to handle and control ourselves. Yes, giving up is a start. But for the serious-minded person it can’t end there. There are things we must get into the habit of doing. We must acquire the habit of loving people correctly, of doing things for the benefit of others. Doing good must become so ingrained into our characters that it is as automatic as breathing. We must become people who do good without even being aware of it.

That’s how God is. It’s God’s very nature to do loving things. He doesn’t need to be commanded. And he doesn’t keep score any more than your mother kept score when she got up at night to care for you. We all must become caring people who don’t keep score.

As for our keeping the 10 commandments: That should become a natural result of our love for God and others. We are to become people who have no need to be commanded. Commandments are for those who have not learned how to love fully, who still have a long way to go. Is that us? Probably. We still need to give up some things, refrain from doing some things, like children. But let’s add to that and do things we should have done long ago. Let’s get with it. There are a lot of dishes that need washing.

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