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Hey, Everybody! Let’s Give It Up for…

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

Hey, everybody! Let’s give it up for…

…Lent!

Yes, this season of traditional Christendom will be upon us soon. March 9th is the first day this year, often called Ash Wednesday. Mormons generally don’t follow any kind of liturgical calendar, but it’s something valued I brought with me from my Protestant heritage. It’s the 40 day period before Easter honoring the 40 days of Christ’s fasting and wandering in the wilderness before his ministry. It’s typically associated with fasting, denial and avoiding temptation.

People choose something specific to refrain from/work on/attend to during Lent. One might, for example, give up chocolate or ice cream or TV or some other pleasantry as a sustained but mini-version of Christ’s fasting. Mormons, of course, are quite familiar with the concept of fasting, although ours is usually a “whole hog, cold turkey” abstaining from food for fast Sunday or for other spiritual concerns. (Should one really use edible livestock and poultry in a definition of fasting?)

Ice cream has little appeal to me so giving it up wouldn’t teach me much. Chocolate, on the other hand, is much beloved. Giving that up one year for Lent was wrenching. But denial for denial’s sake is not the point of Lent.

I like to think of Lent as a practice, a discipline involving something specific that can bring me closer to Christ. To that end I gave up eBay for Lent one year.

eBay was fairly new and I soothed myself through a difficult transition to a new home by buying and selling stuff. Ah, the thrill of a last moment snatch just before the seconds expire! The prestige of being one of few owners of a Steiff (stuffed animal spider) from the 1950’s still with the button in it The satisfaction of earning a couple extra bucks offloading some of the items whose appeal had waned!

It’s not that these were bad things or that I was corrupting my family’s finances or relationships. eBay was NOT the devil in disguise. But I sensed myself starting to be drawn to it in a way that seemed unhealthy. I didn’t want that anymore. Lent provided me a good break. So good a break, in fact, that I clicked there only a couple times in the past few years. I’m a better person for it.

A couple years ago I gave up envy for Lent. What a rich experience that was! When I started to think about what envy meant for me – usually just a downturn in my own sense of self when confronted with the success of someone else – I found that it was pervasive in every aspect of my life. I’m not talking about big, criminal envy but the subtler version that doesn’t allow you to celebrate with the other person as fully as you like and doesn’t let you appreciate all the treasures (spiritual or temporal) you already possess. I can’t say I’ve totally rooted out envy through that Lenten exercise, but I’m more aware of it and more likely to let it go and praise God for what I have. I may just take up the process again this year. I haven’t decided yet.

When my son was on his mission he wrote home in his weekly email that he planned to give up doubt for Lent. I started clicking away immediately begging him to rethink! Doubt (at least my definition of it and I assumed his) is one the richest sources of strength for my faith. It’s when I wrestle with the tough questions, challenge my presumed notions, engage in deep conversation with God about troubling things (my definition of doubt) that my spiritual life develops its muscles. I don’t recall what he ended up doing. Maybe he defined doubt as the cynical, prove-it-to-me, hard-heartedness that many assume doubt is. If so, then good for him to give up.

So, whether you give something up or take a discipline on, who’s with me for a good, robust and spiritual Lent this year?

Have you ever participated in the this tradition – whether at this time of year or anytime? What was that like?

If you want to “do” Lent, any thoughts on what you might like to focus on?

What do you think the differences might be between a 24 hour fast and a sustained break from something specific?

About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

29 thoughts on “Hey, Everybody! Let’s Give It Up for…”

  1. Linda,
    Great post. I'm glad you are suggesting this. And I like your whole hog, cold turkey/fasting juxtaposition.

    When I was at BYU my sister and I decided to give up sugar for Lent. It was the first time I was aware of the practice of Lent. I've always wished Latter-day saints had more spiritual traditions surrounding Easter. I think adopting the Lenten fast is a fantastic idea. Focusing on long term sacrifice (or is this a medium term) seems more soul-stretching than a once-a-month abstention.

    Now I need to think what to give up….chocolate right now would be hard, so maybe that's the thing to do! But I like your idea of giving up the intangible sins. I'll think about it.

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  2. I gave up facebook last week. Well–sort of. It was getting to be too much of a distraction, too much a source of self-congratulations. Eleven people commented on my link! Three people like my status update! I knew I needed to refocus my time and reground my sense of self in things that are REAL! So I went cold turkey for a few days, and then started just looking briefly at the news feeds to see if I'd missed anything crucial from those close to me. It didn't seem like I was missing much. I LOVE not posting my status, articles, videos, etc. anymore. I'll probably let myself do those things again someday, but for now, it's a much needed break. I actually started it by posting my status as "I'm going on a facebook fast." Maybe I should keep it up for the full 40 days . . . it's already been such a great break. We spend a week every summer in the mountains of upstate NY where there is no internet & cell phone reception. I love being away from the constant interruptioins, the constant over stimulations. It's so good for my soul to rest from those things. I come back better balanced, more grounded in things with real value in life–family, friends, etc.

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  3. I've celebrated Lent off and on for about a decade. My go-to fast is usually chocolate (which is hard when Ash Wednesday falls before Valentine's Day), but one year I gave up reading the Bloggernacle and last year I gave up Farmville.

    I can't do regular LDS fasting for health reasons, so often Lent is more spiritually meaningful to me than Fast Sundays are.

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  4. I have to admit, I really wish we used the liturgical calendar sometimes. Like Advent, for instance. Nevertheless, I do think it would be a good idea to give something up for Lent. I will give up sleeping in. As delicious as it feels some days not to get up until 10, I hereby make the commitment that I will get up and stay up when my alarm clock goes up. There are too many wonderful things for me to do or see to miss them all because I can't be bothered to open my eyes. So I'll get up and stay up when my alarm clock goes off. Wish me luck!

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  5. I love Lent too and have talked about it a bit too much perhaps in my years teaching gospel doctrine. I don't have a plan yet for this year but I like the specific time frame for working on something, especially something to help me come to know the Savior better. I've got another couple weeks to narrow it down.

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  6. I do like the idea of Lent. I had a good friend explain it to me in depth a few years back. I try to do something during those weeks leading up to Easter. Usually General Conference is in there during that time and I get even more counsel and ideas. I wish I could make Easter more meaningful and just as meaningful as Christmas. I think that Easter is the most important holiday and we need to take it more seriously.

    Growing up I had a close friend who was diabetic. Obviously she couldn't fast and it really bothered her. She explained her feelings to another diabetic who gave her some incredible advice. The purpose of fasting is to give up something worldly to become closer to Heavenly Father. Her friend told her that Heavenly Father was looking for her to do just that. Perhaps it wasn't fasting the way everyone else was but that she could do something to show Heavenly Father that she was willing to sacrifice something to get closer to Heavenly Father. So each fast Sunday my friend would resolve to give up something that week. Perhaps it was her favorite food, watching her favorite TV show and studying her scriptures instead or giving an act of service to someone. Sometimes she would just be thankful for her blessings and specifically thank Heavenly Father for them. I remembered her advice when I was pregnant or nursing and I would follow her example. I found these "non-fasting" fasts some of the most spiritual I've ever had. Perhaps if we treat monthly fasting as our own personal "Lent" we would be more spiritually filled throughout the year.

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  7. I love your definition of doubt "when I wrestle with the tough questions, challenge my presumed notions, engage in deep conversation with God about troubling things."

    Honest doubt is essential for thinking and spiritual growth. Too often Mormons confuse doubt with disobedience.

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  8. I've never done Lent before but I like the concept. Maybe I will give up looking in mirrors and disparging the fact that I do not look like a twenty-something super model. 🙂

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  9. I love Lent. Growing up Catholic I celebrated Lent all my life. I think Lent is a great resource for children to ease into fasting. As a child I found it enpowering to take my faith in my own hands during Lent. I remember giving up meat on Fridays and often being responsible to remember not to consume it. I was counciled by my mother to give up something I loved for something I should love more. She would say, Christ gave his life for us and we should be willing to give up something we love for him during Lent. Those early lessons really helped me find my own testimony of the Savior. I also miss that lead up to Easter. It is the perfect time to make new commitments to the gosple or to give up Earthly things for spiritual things!
    Thanks for the reminder!

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  10. I love what Paula said about how her diabetic friend chose to give up something worldly in place of fasting. What a great idea and it definitely fits with the Spirit of the Law. And it may be more difficult than skipping a couple meals. Thank you for that thought Paula.

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  11. I was a Methodist before I joined the Church at 18, so Lent is a tradition I grew up with. I clung to it tenaciously at BYU as a way to set me apart from everyone else, but I've slacked on my observance in more recent years. I've given up candy, chocolate, red meat, and World of Warcraft. Always hard, but always satisfying. 🙂

    Honestly, I really miss the Protestant observation of Easter. Each of the 6 Sundays prior (in between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday) had a special theme, we waved palm leaves like crazy the Sunday before, we had a dinner the Thursday prior commemorating the Last Supper, and when Easter Sunday came it was a BIG FAT DEAL. I feel like in the LDS Church, it's just another day. Our talks are themed appropriately, but it's not a huge celebration.

    Anyway, back on topic – I am not sure if I will do Lent this year. I'm brand-newly pregnant which makes me a seriously hormonal b!$#%, and Lent's going to fall right about the time where I should be puking my guts up the most. I don't know if I have the strength to do it this year. Next year, though, next year…

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  12. I've been celebrating Lent for the last several years–one year I gave up Gilmore Girls (my roommates did not join me and I had to lock myself in my room when they were watching it), one year it was chocolate, one year sugar. I don't know what I'll do this year–maybe Netflix?–though I really like that idea, Linda, of giving up something less tangible.

    I've always had friends who asked why I celebrated a Catholic holiday, and I tried explain that I was taking the opportunity to better myself by practicing self-control, and that the act of sacrificing something for forty days makes the celebration of the Savior's sacrifice so much more meaningful (and made the Easter candy that much sweeter!). I also started the tradition of reading all the accounts of the Savior's atonement during the week leading up to Easter. It has been a wonderful way to end Lent.

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  13. Our family loves Lent,actually the day before Lent because in our little area of the world they make these lovely donuts called Faschnachts! They are heavenly and only made by local bakeries one day a year. We are there every year, even though I usually pay little attention to Lenten calendar.

    My previous experience with Lent was my jr. high school friend who was a wonderful pagan (introduced me to plenty of things I had to repent of later) except during Lent.

    Several days ago I gave up caffeinated soda. This is huge for me. I think cola is in my blood, in my family the babies were indoctrinated to Pepsi drinking by straw feeding during the first year. I decided that if I really want to be obedient then I should obey in those physical, bodily commands first. (Really not trying to start a caffeine discussion, it is my opinion that this is a commandment, it's OK if you feel that it isn't.)

    What I find interesting is how it prompts me to think about my commitment to God throughout the day. Like fasting, but everyday, as you said. Hopefully after 40 days I'll be fine and it won't feel like the sacrifice it does now.

    I'm not big on waiting for a date on the calendar to change. (I don't always celebrate holidays on the exact day, my birthday is fun for many days, and I don't make new years resolutions either.)

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  14. I'm certainly not interested in a dietary fasting because my nursing baby already has me off of dairy and chocolate. That's challenge enough, thank you. However, now that my baby is sleeping more I need to get back into my reading habits, both personal pleasure reading and scriptural reading.

    I spend a lot of time online. I think that I will give up online reading & social networking for Lent. It's time to purge and cleanse.

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  15. Duerma–giving up sole possession of your own body and allowing someone else to grow inside it sounds like plenty to give up for Lent!

    Paula–thanks for the ideas on non-dietary fasts. I haven't been able to fast for the last several years because of health concerns. I've become accustomed to just ignoring fast Sunday, but this makes me think of all sorts of temporal distractions I could cut out on fast Sunday.

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  16. Jendoop, do you live in Austria, by any chance? I did a semester abroad there last year and in Vienna, at least, we called them Faschingkrapfen.

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  17. Two years ago I observed Lent for the first time. After doing a bit of online research at that time I learned this:

    "There are traditionally forty days in Lent which are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance. The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigour during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbour). Today, some people give up a vice of theirs, add something that will bring them closer to God, and often give the time or money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations.[7]" (wikipedia)

    I loved the idea that I was spiritually purifying myself to become closer to Christ as I prepared to remember his sacrifices for me.

    I gave up chocolate, having literally never gone a day without chocolate since I was about 2 years old. In times of stress, I turn to chocolate. Celebration? chocolate. Any occasion, good or bad? chocolate.

    And suddenly, instead of a handful of chocolate chips to calm me before intervening in sibling disputes, I turned to God.

    I made a concerted effort to make my prayers more frequent throughout the day, and more meaningful.

    And I made an effort to perform an act of service each day that was part of my observance of Lent.

    It was a wonderfully uplifting experience for me, and helped to pull me out of a period of depression.

    Thanks for bringing this up…I think I could use this type of experience again this year.

    And sorry this is so long!

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  18. I am so happy to hear that so many Mormons observe Lent in their own way! I love Lent and have observed it for years. This is my first time visiting segullah.org and this wonderful discussion reminded me of the part in the Book of Mormon when Lamoni's father says that he will give away all of his sins in order to know God. I have not yet decided what to give up for Lent, but I think I might choose to give up complaining. Thank you all for your great suggestions!

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  19. I thought of a few more worthy candidates to give up–gossip and/or finding fault with others, second helpings at dinner.

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  20. My Catholic grandmother believed that a more faithful way to celebrate the Savior's triumph over death was to do something positive, rather than the negative of giving up something.

    Her style was to volunteer at a homeless shelter or donate to a clinic.

    She was something of a radical:)

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  21. We just moved to a very Catholic part of the country, so I'm looking forward to seeing what they do (so far, Carnival Season has been really eye-opening).

    But I think I'm going to try to give up offensiveness–or rather, try my darnedest not to take offense when it isn't intended.

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  22. I've been thinking about this post since it went up. A few weeks ago, I realized that I really need to give up procrastinating the menial, mundane tasks at work that I really don't like to do. I even set a goal to be finished with some of those things by the end of March.

    So for Lent, I am giving up procrastination.

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  23. I'm planning to give up soda for Lent. I spend too much money on diet Coke and all those phosphates aren't good for my bones. It's going to be hard, because I'm a daily drinker.

    I like the idea of giving up something intangible, like envy. I think that would be even more of a challenge to pull off perfectly. But there is value in giving up tangibles, as well. I think of self-control like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Knowing I can give up something I really like for 40 days gives me confidence to know I can change myself in more significant ways.

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  24. We had wonderful Catholic neighbors when we lived in Michigan who taught us about Lent and it was a wonderful experience. The long season give one time to learn valueable lessons. My children have their family going weeks without TV or weeks without sugar and always express the time as a surpising week of peace, once over the first shock of withdrawal. Our neighbor's children got tired of giving up foods and started working on attitudes which were even better. I think we can always learn valueable truths from our friends who practice in another faith.

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  25. There are lots of variations on what to give up for lent to bring one closer to God and increase our faith and I've tried a lot of them. As I have grown older, I have found more appeal in doing extra things for other people. Knitting prayer shawls, being nicer to people (even when it is on the tip of my tongue to say something unkind or mean), going to prayer services more often, praying more in my daily life, looking for ways to help others, being more understanding, or even just smiling at someone to share God's love. They say that to change a habit it takes at least 30 days, so 40 days may present us with a wonderful opportunity to become better persons, but also to permanently change something in our lives that needed improvement.

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