Being Jewish during Lent means I automatically get to pick up a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free-Card and Pass Go—straight on to the pink Peeps. But my daughters are Catholic, and it's vital to our family to instill in them the importance of the Lenten season.
Growing up, watching my Catholic friends and relatives (yes, we're a mixed bunch!), I always got the impression that Lent meant only giving something up (i.e., chocolate or fast food) just to witness them gobble down a half-pound chocolate bunny and drive through McDonald's after Mass. Sometimes for fun, I would join in with my friends to see what I could give up for forty days, too. It was like a fun little game for me.
As I got older I began to learn that you're not limited to only picking something to give up for Lent, but rather you can choose to add something significant to your life—such as waking up earlier to go to the gym every morning, or finding a new program to volunteer for, or reading the Bible before bed every night.
A couple of years ago, around this time, someone asked me what I was giving up for Lent to which I laughed and facetiously replied, “I'm Jewish—I get to do whatever I want!” ;) I continued on to say that Lent wasn't just about giving something up for the sake of “It's Lent—quick! I've gotta give something up!” but can also be a time to switch gears and refocus on becoming a-better-version-of-yourself.
At the time, the thought of giving up fast food or chocolate seemed insignificant in comparison to adding something meaningful to your life; but really, don't both ends of “giving up something” and “adding something” guide you in becoming your better self? I can take it a step further, too, and add that if we are becoming better people ourselves, we are also helping to serve others. If I'm working towards becoming a-better-version-of-myself, in turn, I'm also becoming a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and citizen.
And isn't that the whole point of humanity anyway?
My youngest isn’t even nine months, so she really does get a Free Pass, and since my oldest is only four, I don't think I want to take the route of “giving something up,” but rather enlighten her character by adding something meaningful to her life. At her age, I feel it needs to be somewhat tangible since feelings can sometimes be hard to grasp and measure when you're in preschool.
Not to get all preachy, but the last thing I want is for my daughters to grow up thinking Easter is about The Bunny and baskets. (Even though those are fun, too!) I don't want materialistic things to trump the true meaning of Easter. But I digress. This post isn't about The Resurrection, per say, but about the practice of Lent.
Just because I'm not Catholic, doesn't mean I can't participate in Easter-y things. Sure, there are definitely rituals reserved for Catholics, and I'm always respectful of that (i.e., not taking Communion), but there's a lot every individual can learn about the ritual of sacrificing for Lent. I have realized that giving up something often results in a person practicing self-denial and “suffering,” reminding him or her what God was willing to give up on his or her behalf.
As an outlier throughout the Lenten season, and someone who can only partially participate, I personally take away the message that this is a time to turn down self-gratification, and reflect and ponder on sacrifices I can make as an individual, as well as healthy habits I can choose to do to help me become a-better-version-of-myself.