Every year I’ve struggled with the problem of what to “give up” for Lent. The year I gave up Pepsi I ended up with a very nasty caffeine withdrawal headache. The year I gave up meat I ended up making a permanent lifestyle change. Whether I give up chocolate usually depends on timing—whether Valentine’s Day or my birthday falls during Lent. This year I would be safe. Valentine’s Day was the Sunday before Lent and my birthday is Easter Sunday. The past few years I’ve been rethinking the idea of “giving up” and thinking more in terms of “giving back.” Instead of giving up something I enjoy and desire I’ve made a commitment to being more charitable and spiritual, at least during Lent. Making a commitment to charitable works, setting aside time for prayer and meditation, attending a daily mass in addition to the weekend obligation are all things that don’t feel like giving up something. In fact when I do these things I feel like I’m gaining and I’m growing spiritually. I feel almost guilty that I’m not “giving up” for Lent since I’m getting so much back.
The reading from Isaiah says that good works are their own reward, and will be rewarded from God. People who perform charitable acts will lose their own depression and the Lord will reward them for their good works. “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire with good things.” There is the immediate reward in good feelings that comes from helping others, and the reward in heaven is bonus.
Spending more time in communion with God through mass and prayer and meditation is another thing that is a pleasure rather than a denial. The time I spend in prayer helps me grow so much personally and spiritually that I again feel I am getting much more than I am giving. The reading states, “call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord… then you shall take delight in the lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.” Again, the rewards of the act would be enough, and the later rewards are a bonus.
So for Lent this year I am trying to follow the suggestions of this reading, to pour myself out for the hungry, and to call the Sabbath a delight. And in doing this I am gaining personal and spiritual delight, and not “giving up” anything.
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