Do you really think giving up a few M&Ms, cookies, Facebook, or beer will help you grow closer to God?
Well, yeah. Kind of. Let me explain.
So this was the sentiment I heard a lot in college among my friends who didn’t observe Lent. I mean, really? God’s supposed to care that you are passing up Snickers? Is this just an excuse to diet?
Lent is the 46 days prior to Easter, 40 days plus 6 Sundays. It begins today on Ash Wednesday. Lent is traditionally observed as a time of fasting in order to spiritually prepare ourselves for Easter.
Fasting is a spiritual practice in lots of religions. We see fasting in Buddhism for instance. Lay Buddhists fast as a means of self control, a way to create merit, and as a way to serve the planet. Buddhist monks fast to clear their thoughts and purify their bodies¹. In the Jewish tradition, fasting is done to atone, to commemorate mourning, and to give gratitude².
By eliminating things that are unnecessary in our life, we create space to see what is necessary. We also see where we focus our time and energy. Fasting creates focus. It’s not a lifestyle, but it is something that done occasionally can bring us closer to God.
Okay, but giving up M&Ms isn’t exactly a fast.
Well, it is and it isn’t.
Traditionally, Catholics observed a “Great Fast” in which they gave up all milk, eggs, butter, alcohol, meat, and you know everything else that tasted good. Some people still choose to observe this fast. However, Catholics are now given the option of what they would like to do to observe this fast. So some people choose to give up sweets or alcohol. Others get more creative and give up things like driving to work or watching TV.
This year I’m giving up running the water while I am showering, except when I need to. I’m doing it because a) I care about my husband and he deserves hot water 40 days a year, b) it’s good for the environment, and c) as an act of solidarity for those who do not have copious amounts of water to shower in.
Usually when I give something up, I have this train of thought, “Ooh. I want to [eat chocolate, eat meat, etc]. Oh, I dammit can’t. Ugh my life is so HARD. Wait, really? I think my life is hard because I’m passing up on [pepperoni pizza, cupcakes]? Get a grip. This is a pretty small sacrifice compared to what God has done for us. I guess I can live without [The Office reruns, Facebook]
So, in addition to “giving something up,” we also fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstain from meat on Fridays. The money we save by fasting and not eating meat is supposed to be donated to the poor.
We are also encouraged to “do something extra.” This can cover a wide spectrum depending where you are in your faith at the moment -from deciding to attend mass each Sunday, to attending every day. From deciding to pray once a day to deciding to read your Bible every day.
So anyway, that’s why your crazy Catholic friend thinks she’s growing closer to God by skipping out on M&Ms. It’s not so much about what we give up, but the reasons behind it.