When our children were young, we always talked to them about Lent and how it leads up to Easter. We made sure they all gave up something and understood the sacrifice involved. One year, when they were all very young, we even did the jelly bean Lenten activity. One thing I’m not sure we did adequately was to teach our children why we give things up. I don’t know that we really emphasized the point of the sacrifice, the point of going without, or the point of forty days of changed behavior.
As one who has never felt spiritually challenged or renewed by giving things up, I do know that I always tried to impress upon our girls that it’s not always about what you give up. The real point is what goes on within. That’s really what Lent is all about – a change from within.
To make up for lost time with my own girls and in an attempt to help others, here are things I feel are more important than giving up. These are the other UPs of Lent:
Over the next forty days, instead of concentrating on giving up, why not concentrate on lifting up.
Lift up someone’s spirits by visiting them (there’s always Zoom), calling them, or even sending them a note.
Lift up someone’s workload. Help someone with a daunting task, help clean the house of someone who is sick or overwhelmed, or help by sharing a heavy load – caring for a parent, driving to appointments, or cooking meals.
Lift up a hand to help a neighbor. Shovel their snowy sidewalks, offer a warm blanket, or help with their yard work. Always remember, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:41).
Lift up yourself and others in prayer. Pray for healing, for comfort, for mercy, for understanding, for forgiveness, for guidance, or for wisdom for yourself and for others.
Lent is the perfect time to unload the things that weigh you down.
Chalk up your past. Realize that your past does not define you. Spend these forty days working on a new you–a new outlook, a new attitude, or a new prayer life. C.S. Lewis said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
Chalk up your regrets. Your failures and regrets are not you and should not be what you focus on. St Paul wrote, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Stop holding onto regrets from the past and start straining forward to creating a better path ahead.
Chalk up lost causes. Put away those things that are holding you back mentally, physically, and spiritually. This includes the people in our lives who bring us down or continually hurt us. You can’t change them. You can only change your reaction to them and how you live your own life.
The purpose of Lent is not to get rid of old habits or make over our lifestyles, but it is a time to reflect on the person you are versus the person you are meant to be.
Take up a new cause. Once you’ve left the lost causes behind, find something to pursue that brings you joy. What is missing in your life, and how can you find it? Often, we think, if I only had more (fill in the blank–money, time, things), but the question should be what will truly bring me joy? And I don’t mean this is in a Marie Kondo clean and organize your house kind of way. Not even close. As I’ve said in the past, joy is not something we can obtain through things or situations, or even people. What is joy? St Peter describes it as “inexpressible and glorious…the result of your faith [felt by] the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9). What cause can bring you true joy?
Lent allows us to discard the things we don’t truly need and discover the things that will bring us closer to God.
Pick up the broken pieces. Perhaps it’s a broken friendship or a broken family or a broken heart. How can you mend it? What can you do to gather the pieces and put things back together? It’s the first step that is the hardest, so take that step.
Pick up someone who is down. Whether they are down physically, mentally, or spiritually, reach out to someone in need. Try pairing this with one of the suggestions above. By making a difference in someone else’s life you can make a difference in yours!
Pick up the Bible. You can do this! You can find the time to read God’s Word. Is Leviticus too hard? Is Deuteronomy too daunting? Try Jeff Cavins Unlocking the Mystery of the Bible that allows you to read the narrative parts of the Bible and eases you into the harder stuff. Or follow along with Fr. Mike Schmitz and his Bible In A Year Podcast. It’s not too late to start.
Pick up the Rosary. It doesn’t have to be all at once. You can do a decade at a time. What matters is to do it.
Pick up your cross. We all have hardships; accept them. We all have sorrows; look for joy. We all sin; overcome them. Do what you need to do to find salvation.
The Key to Giving Up is Letting Go
As you ponder the next forty days and what you will do with them, realize that everything above has to do with giving up and letting go. Give up hatred, fear, selfishness, greed, and pride. Give up the things that don’t bring you joy. Let go of the people, things, and situations that take you away from the life you are meant to be living, the life God intends you to lead. Let go of your anger, your hurts, your distrust, and your doubts. Allow God to change you. Allow Him to create in you a new person.
The Key to Letting Go is Letting God
When the rain came down for forty days and flood waters washed over the earth, the earth and its creatures were changed. They began new lives as children of God. When the Israelites spent forty years wandering, in search of the Promised Land, they were changed. God used those forty years to turn them into a people who relied on Him, who prayed to Him, and set their sites on Him. When Jesus spent forty days in the desert, He emerged ready to begin His mission, ready to gather His flock, and ready to take up His cross. After Jesus’s resurrection, He spent forty days appearing to thee Apostles and Disciples giving them the courage and knowledge they needed to spread the Good News.
You may emerge from these forty days still bearing burdens, still living the same life with the same problems, and still facing the same hardships; but you can emerge stronger, wiser, happier, and hardier. You can emerge a changed person, a person who thinks about others first, a person who lives without past regrets, a person who knows and understands true joy, a person who prays more, and a person who gives his or her trials to God, for He tells us, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30). And that’s what Lent is all about. Turning everything over to God and allowing Him to to mold you into a new creation ready to find rest in Him. What will you do with these forty days?
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Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019), A Devotional Alphabet (2019), Desert Fire, Mountain Rain(2020).