Lent lasts for 40 days and runs from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. It is a season dedicated to prayer, penance and doing good works in an attempt to draw closer to God. Lent is best known, however, for Christians’ habit of making Lenten sacrifices. For this practice, Christians choose something of reasonable value to give up as a form of fasting. Few to none undertake serious fasting of food for 40 days, but many give up a specific food or some form of entertainment such as social media. What each person will do for Lent is unique to them as is the effect it will have on their life.
On one hand, the deeply personal elements of Lent suggest that there is no wrong way to do Lenten sacrifices. This, however, is not entirely true. It is entirely possible to make a massive mistake during Lent that either negates the entire purpose of giving something up or makes you wish you could go hide out in the desert for either 40 days or until everyone forgets what you did. Here are seven cringe worthy Lenten screw ups and some easy ways to avoid them.
Trying to pass Fat Tuesday leftovers off on everyone.
If you hosted a Fat Tuesday party, one of the first things you probably end up doing on Ash Wednesday is wondering to whom you can give your leftovers. After all, you or someone in your household likely gave up sweets for Lent. The last thing you need is the temptation of a dozen uneaten cookies laying around the house. So, you give the cookies to neighbors or friends from church. At least, you try to give your leftover goodies away. The people who normally love your homemade brownies, however, may begrudgingly take your gifts with an irritable look or refuse them all together. The reason is very simple, they do not want the goodies in their house either. After all, giving up sweets for Lent is one of the most common Lenten sacrifices. So, the odds are that someone in their family cannot eat your double-chocolate mint brownies either.
If you desperately need to get rid of the leftovers in your house, first try and give them to the needy. If local charities or church outreach programs will not accept home cooked food, many do not, try leaving the goodies somewhere that those who want them can eat them and those who are uninterested can avoid them. A common space in your office building might work for this. Otherwise, ask around and see which friends have not given up sweets for Lent and give them your leftovers.
Developing a good habit for bad reasons.
Many people use the season of Lent to try and form better habits. On one hand, this is an excellent use of Lent. Lenten sacrifices, after all, are meant to bring you closer to God. If you can continue with whatever habit brought you closer to God or keep something that was causing you to stray from Him out of your life, that is fabulous. Lent has made you a better Christian. On the other hand, many people do not try to break a habit that has actually been causing them difficulties in their faith. Instead, they make their so-called sacrifice for selfish reasons. Giving up sweets, for example, is one of the most popular Lenten sacrifices. For most people, however, sugary foods and drinks do not interfere with their faith. Instead, Lent serves as a way for them to try and get in shape for summer swimsuit season. While wanting to be healthier is admirable, Lent is about drawing closer to God, not shallow or selfish gains.
Before you decide on your Lenten sacrifice, think hard and prayerfully about why you are really giving it up. Is it for selfish reasons, or is it a worthy way to grow closer to God? Does it just sound impressive to have given up coffee, or is it actually a reasonable Lenten sacrifice? Do not simply default to what you normally give up. Instead, make sure your Lenten sacrifice is one that will draw you closer to God.
Sacrificing something that inconveniences or hurts others.
Lent is about drawing closer to God, and many Christians do this through spending the 40 day period living without something that is important to them as a form of fasting. What people give up varies from person to person, and a Lenten sacrifice can be very personal. Unfortunately, some people get so caught up in picking the perfect thing to sacrifice for Lent that they neglect to think about how that sacrifice will affect those around them. It is all well and good, after all, to try and go 40 days without caffeine. Your body certainly thanks you. Your constant state of caffeine deprivation, however, may not be a pleasant experience at all for your family. If a lack of coffee in the morning means you are going to be a jerk until noon and get snippy with your spouse every day, give up something else. You are not drawing closer to God by being a monster to your loved ones each morning. Similarly, do not give up something that will greatly inconvenience those around you. So, avoid giving up a food item that your family will struggle to make dinner without. Do not add a spiritual practice that will inconvenience others either. Wanting to improve your prayer life is a laudable ambition, but do not go about it by spending an hour praying at the exact time your spouse really needs you to pick up one of the children from soccer practice. Acting without regard for those around you is selfish, not spiritual. So, before you choose your Lenten sacrifice, think about those in your life and how it will affect them. Begin Lent early by putting their needs and comforts above your own.
Giving up when you fall off the wagon.
Lent is hard. That is half the point of the season. Most Christians acknowledge this, but that does not make it easier to go 40 days without checking your Facebook page or to spend 40 days squeezing an hour of Bible reading into an already packed schedule. As such, it is not unsurprising that so many Christians slip up during Lent. They may give in to temptation knowingly by willingly accepting one of the donuts their coworker passes around the office. They might also slip up by accident, such as unthinkingly opening a social media page when they log onto the computer. Regardless of how it happens, slipping up during Lent is not a reason to abandon your sacrifice for the rest of the season. If you forget it is Ash Wednesday and end up eating Pop-Tarts for breakfast, skip the cookies at lunch and work to avoid sugar for the other 39 days of Lent. If you crack and log onto Facebook halfway through Lent, recognize your failure and then avoid logging back in for the remaining 20 days of Lent. If you fall off the wagon, do not give up. Remind yourself that resisting temptation is difficult and forgive yourself. Then, go back to avoiding sweets or improving your prayer life for the remainder of Lent.
Leaving and abusing loopholes.
Some people make a Lenten sacrifice out of habit or obligation, and they do not really internalize the meaning of the season. Others panic about their potential inability to go 40 days without getting their social media fix. As such, both groups tend to leave loopholes in their Lenten sacrifices. A person giving up sweets, for example, might specifically say that they are giving up sweet foods, not sweet drinks. This might not be a huge problem, but the person then decides to help themselves to milkshakes, root beer floats, custards and hot chocolates with candy bars shoved in the whip cream. After all, those are liquid! Similarly, a person might give up Facebook for Lent because it was encouraging them to gossip and be judgmental. This is a wonderful Lenten sacrifice. It loses its power, however, when the person spends 40 days becoming an expert on Instagram and Twitter.
If you are going to make a sacrifice for Lent, do not leave loopholes big enough that an aircraft carrier could fit through them. Do not give up Facebook; give up social media. Do not give up sugary foods; give up sugar. Do not plan to spend an hour reading the Bible, and then half-heartedly listen to it as an audiobook while you scroll through Tumblr. Make yourself sit down and hold the actual book in your hands. Close the loopholes so that you actually practice your Lenten sacrifice, and find an accountability buddy at church if you can. Then, you two can help keep each other on track throughout the season.
Counting down until Easter so you can have your sacrifice back.
Part of celebrating Easter is often indulging once more in the things you gave up for Lent. After all, Christ is risen! As such, the day is meant to be all about celebrating. This means you can have those chocolate eggs or wish everyone a happy Easter on Facebook. The focus on Easter, however, should be on celebrating Christ’s resurrection, not trying to catch up on everything you missed after spending 40 days away from Twitter. Lent itself should also be spent preparing for Easter, not counting down the days until you can eat chocolate or gossip on social media again.
When you find yourself thinking longingly about when you can indulge in your sacrifice again, take a step back and reexamine the reason for Lent. Shift your focus back to the reason for the season and stop obsessing over crossing off days until Easter on the calendar.
If you keep getting twitchy or anxious at the thought of spending another two weeks without whatever you gave up, you may need more serious help. If you are obsessing over when you can get your next fix, you may have developed an addiction to whatever you gave up for Lent. This is more common with things like social media and smartphone use than food or alcohol, but if you find your craving for whatever you gave up is getting extreme, you need to talk to someone about what is likely an addiction.
Picking something too easy or too hard.
If you want to have a successful and meaningful Lent, you cannot simply select your sacrifice at random. You need to think about what you are giving up, how it will affect those around you and whether or not you are giving it up for the right reasons. You also need to make sure that it is at the right level for you. You do not want to pick a sacrifice for Lent that is impossible to achieve since this will only leave you discouraged and disappointed in yourself. You also, however, do not want to pick something that is so easy to live without that you barely notice it is gone. Lent should be challenging, but doable.
If you have tried and failed to give up smoking six times, stopping your smoking habit for Lent might be setting your expectations too high. Instead, cut your allowed smoke breaks down from three to only one. Your sacrifice would be the two cigarettes you did not smoke. On the other hand, do not give up social media and claim it is a Lenten sacrifice if you only log onto Facebook twice a year. You are not actually sacrificing anything meaningful. Instead, pick something that will push your limits, but is still possible. Reading the entire Bible, for example, is a good thing to add to aim for during Lent. So is making it a point to do so many hours of volunteer work. Similarly, giving up complaining is harder than many people think and goes a long way toward establishing a mind and spirit that is more thankful for all of God’s blessings.
Lent is a season of sacrifice, but that does not mean you can simply give something up willy-nilly. You need to be specific and deliberate when you are choosing what to sacrifice for Lent. You also need to be sure that you think through whatever you choose to remove from or add to your life for 40 days. Be sure it is neither too easy nor too hard, and be careful to ensure that whatever you choose to give up does not ruin someone else’s day 40 times in a row. Lent is about sacrifice, and sometimes that means sacrificing what you wanted to do for Lent because it was not an acceptable sacrifice in the first place.