Why do we give up instead of take on?

With today being Fat Tuesday, I’ve been talking to my girls about their Lenten sacrifices. My older daughter is quite ambitious on the topic. My younger one seems to know her limits.
The older has told me that she’s giving up her Disney Infinity. Considering this is her favorite gift from Christmas and her birthday, and that she has been canoodling Grandma into buying her new characters every few weeks, I was a bit surprised. Her teacher has been talking to her class about really making their sacrifice matter. I don’t want her to fail on this, or start hating Lent for it. So I let her in on the Sunday escape clause. I think we’ll make it now.
The little one has decided to give up M&M’s. I’m not exactly sure that she eats M&M’s all that much. But it definitely wasn’t going to be Smarties ( like those way too much) or cheese, like her girlfriend from school. She certainly will have a better time of it than her sister, who she will likely terrorize by plugging Infinity into X-Box at every opportunity.
I was never real big on giving things up. I’d give up gum, but I was never a huge gum person anyway. I always felt bad about it, but I just could never bring myself to give up something I loved so much, that by the third week of Lent I’d be dragging to Sunday like a man lost in the desert, parched for a piece of chocolate or some ice cream.
I get the point of the sacrifice, but who says you have to give something up? It seems kind of futile when we almost always go directly back to the waiting arms of whatever we gave up. Take the relatively new phenomenon of giving up social media. Its kind of like seeing how long you can hold your breath. When you give up Twitter or Facebook or whatever, you know your going back full force just after Jesus meets Mary Magdalene in the garden.
Instead of giving it up, how about doing something really hard with it? Use it to spread God’s Word. Tweet the Gospel. Facebook an anti-abortion message. Or, be really bold. Take on the people who bash Pope Francis with disgusting and pornographic comments. No one really sees you giving up Facebook. How about going out on a limb. Proclaim your Catholicism – and maybe draw some ire your own way.
If that frightens you, try showing people you’re a Catholic in other ways. My personal attempt this year will be volunteering in a food bank. I’ve always wanted to do more service work, but never seemed to find anything that made me feel comfortable. This year, I finally get it. I’m not supposed to feel comfortable. So I’m hoping when Lent ends, not only will the food bank be sick of me, I hope my kids will be complaining about me dragging them out there with me.
At this Sunday’s Mass, we had a visiting priest from the Byzantine right. He said that to have a truly productive Lent, you need sacrifice, prayer, and alms giving. There are so many ways to do these things that do not involve candy, soda, gum or electronics. Why not try to be patient in traffic? Why not let someone cut into a line of traffic when those famous orange barrels make their appearance? Pay someone else’s bill in the drive-thru. Give someone who looks sad a compliment. Check in on an elderly neighbor, or give a young mother in your neighborhood an afternoon off by watching her baby. How about being courteous and friendly with a store cashier, or leaving a waitress a little extra in her tip? Do something for someone in your family that they aren’t expecting.
Lent is not just time to give up something it seems impossible to live without. Especially when your going right back to it anyway. Do something that makes a real difference – something that another person will remember. Something that has a potential to last. Something that identifies you as a Catholic.

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