Don’t be caught off guard! Lent is right around the corner. Before you know it, Ash Wednesday will be here and many will be scrambling to come up with the perfect Lenten penance. If you want to plan ahead, now is the time to begin considering what your Lenten penance will be. Of course, you should pray about what you are called to give up or take up for Lent, but here are some ideas of what not to do.
Something you do not consume a lot of
By far the easiest Lent for me was the year I gave up popcorn for Lent. I am not a huge popcorn eater, so I had a breeze that year. (Note: I was a kid and did not want Lent to be too challenging.) Make it a challenge for yourself this year.
Better suggestion: Give up something you consume a lot of. Candy? Pizza? Television?
Anything healthy or beneficial
Lent is the perfect time to joke about giving up vegetables, not to actually give up vegetables. What you give up should not be a detriment to your life. Unless you are eating way too many carrots, it is probably a good idea to keep your healthy habits, even if it is something you really enjoy.
Furthermore, anything you are currently doing in your spiritual life that is benefitting you keep doing. Lent is not the time to give up on what is bringing you closer to the Lord.
Better suggestion: Start a healthy habit. Exercise! Eat a vegetable every day! Pray even more!
If you are married or in a relationship, do not stop dating your significant other. You do not want your relationship to suffer because of Lent. Keep the romance alive!
Moreover, single persons should not give up dating either. The world needs more solid Christian marriages. The only way that can happen is if people are out there meeting each other.
Better suggestion: Stop with the texting and talk on the phone or IRL.
Many people will try to give up coffee for Lent. Then, they find themselves with a huge headache because of withdrawal. This can also lead to crankiness. A good way to look at Lenten penances is that your penance should not be a penance for someone else.
Better suggestion: Give up the fancy coffee. Drink just plain, black coffee.
Your bed or anything that helps you sleep
Giving up one’s bed is a Lenten suggestion I have heard before, but it is unwise. Sleep is crucial to your health, and doing anything that might harm your sleep will cause you problems. Lent is not about making things as painful as possible; it is about drawing near to the Lord. One of the things you risk by harming your sleep is more inattention in prayer. It is already hard enough to focus when praying; don’t make it harder by ruining your sleep.
Better suggestion: Give up the snooze button. It doesn’t actually help you get any more high-quality sleep, and the jolts awake from repeated snooze alarms are an attack on your cardiovascular system.
Social media (in the era of COVID)
Many people take a break from social media during Lent. Any other year, I would applaud this, but we are still in a time of social distancing. Human beings need connection. As troublesome as social media can be, maybe now is not the time to drop it altogether. It is one way to stay connected during all of this craziness.
Better suggestion: Limit your social media usage. It is much harder to limit how often you go on social media. Pick one time of day, and that is your time to check and post on social media.
Music has powerful properties. It can relax you, and certain songs might actually help you dive deeper into your relationship with the Lord. Plus, we sing at Mass, so it would be hard to give up music entirely.
Better suggestion: Cut out mainstream music. Just listen to instrumental or Christian music. Having those soothing sounds or positive messages filling your ears will help you relax and draw near to the Lord.
Sin is something to give up year round. If you struggle with a particular sin, do not wait for Lent. Start the process of ceasing it now. There have been times where I intended on giving up a particular sin for Lent but could not do so because I was too addicted to it.
Better suggestion: Give up something neutral, something that can be good if used properly or become a vice if used improperly.