Giving Things Up: A Story about Lent
The thing about giving up something for Lent is that it is sometimes hard, especially for children, to not make the thing you’ve given up the focus of one’s attention.
I think the point of giving something up during this season is to make more space for God.
But I often wonder if, in our house, we are making space for anything but our own pride because we talk for almost two months about how we are missing chocolate or sugar or coffee or TV or wine.
Nevertheless, we still encourage the practice at our house, partly because it is something I grew up with and found to be meaningful as I grew older and partly because I hope every year that God will show up in our home in a powerful way as I turn my heart towards Easter.
The anticipation of spring is already strong with me this year, so it is fitting to long for new life again.
But already, the discussions at our house of what will be given up and more urgently, what we need to consume today before Lent begins, are reminding me of the years of constant proclamations of:
Oh I can’t have that! I gave it up for Lent.
I remember my sister Anna and I used to love this movie with Hayley Mills called The Trouble with Angels, in which Hayley Mills tells her friend that the trick to Lent is to give up something you don’t really care for anyway.
Anna really had the whole Lent bit down. One year she gave up just one certain kind of cookie. Butter Thins. It was not a cookie we kept around the house, but her best friend, a gal called Angela, brought a stack of them to school every day and shared them with Anna. Anna was giving up her coveted portion of her friend’s cookies every day.
We never had store bought cookies at our house, but my dad bought this particular cookie especially that year during Lent, just to give Anna a hard time. In response, Anna told him that she had not given up the cookie altogether, but just the ones her friend brought to school. Only Angela’s Butter Thins. The cookies my dad had bought were totally fair game.
Just as my parents did before me, I try to help my kids have as much ownership over the practice as possible. I don’t make them give up anything and I don’t police them when they do.
One year our whole family managed to agree to give up sugary foods for Lent. Even our sweet exchange student from the Philippines did it with us.
One day in March, we all loaded up in the car and went to Petit Jean Mountain for a hike. The trees were still bare, but the sun was shining and the soft earth was beginning to give way to new growth.
Frequently when we go for jaunts with the kids, Taido carries treats in his pack or we stop for ice cream on the way home, so Ben was lamenting that there would be no hiking treats on this day because of Lent. I think I packed almonds and apples instead.
Simon was about three and he couldn’t keep up with the big kids, plus he kept stopping to pick up sticks and climb over rocks. Cole and Ben were well ahead of us when they found a wallet, a lighter and a pack of cigarettes on the trail. They came running back to us and asked what they should do with the freshly dropped items.
Taido encouraged them to run ahead on the trail and see if they could catch up with the wallet’s owner. So they took off, and Mary Polly and Norhaine followed them.
They were gone for a while, and we continued on slowly. I was enjoying the slower pace and taking pictures on the trail. As has been my usual winter habit, I had not moved my legs for many weeks, and was beginning to remember how I loved walking in the sun. Every spring, I remember all over again how I love to be outside.
When the big kids returned to us panting, Ben was waving a five dollar bill in the air, a gift from the grateful owner of the wallet and cigarettes.
“Well done.” Taido told them.
Mary Polly could hardly wait to tell us that the guy and the girl had not even realized that they had dropped anything. And when the guy had given Ben the money, he had said, “Here, go buy yourselves some candy and coke.”
Of course, Ben replied, “Oh we can’t have any candy and coke, sir. We gave it up for Lent.”
I imagined this young guy thinking how cruel the parents of these kids must be, and I hoped again (and not for the last time) that this crazy practice will somehow make space for something beautiful.
And I’m pretty sure I said, “You know, you don’t have to tell every stranger you meet that you’ve given up sugar for Lent.”
That was about four years ago and those words are still falling on deaf ears.