Each year when I mention Lent
in front of my kids, the first
thing they ask is, “Is Lent when
we have to give something up
and eat cheese pizza every Friday?”
“Yes,” I respond, making a mental
note to vary our Friday night meals a
little more. “But it’s not just about giving
Then they usually give me a “Here
comes one of mom’s lectures” look.
And in the end they’re usually not convinced.
But to be fair, I suspect a whole
lot of Catholics—adults included—fail
to see Lent any differently than my
As parents, we know that kids always
ask, “Why?” about everything. And maybe
they’re on to something. So in order
to get beyond the rote of fasting and
abstinence each Lent, perhaps it helps
to know why we do it in the first place.
The actual purpose behind fasting
and abstinence is to help us connect
with the suffering of Jesus. Suddenly,
giving up our favorite show or food
doesn’t seem so trying in light of what
Jesus endured, does it?
Fasting during Lent has its origins in
the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert
fasting and praying. Days of fasting
during Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On those days, Catholics
over the age of 18 and younger than 60
should eat only one full meal. Two
smaller meals can be eaten, but when
combined, those two should not exceed
the full meal.
Abstinence from meat is observed
on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday,
but is also practiced on Fridays
throughout Lent in the United States.
Actually, according to the Code of Canon
Law, Catholics should abstain from
meat every Friday throughout the year
in addition to Ash Wednesday and several
other days. But in 1966, the U.S.
bishops amended the practice to
include just Ash Wednesday and Fridays
during Lent. They do, however,
encourage Catholics to try to abstain
from meat every Friday.
Make It Worthwhile
So if Lent to you has become just the
time of year when you have to give
something up, give it a jump start with
the help of the following tips:
Make it count. Throughout Lent
last year my four-year-old son, Alex,
gave up jelly—which he doesn’t particularly
like in the first place—and
numerous other things based on what
we were having for dinner that night.
My point is, make your sacrifice count.
Make sure it’s something that will really
get you thinking. Fasting and abstinence
aren’t supposed to be easy.
Put it in perspective. One of the
things that always gets me back on track
with my Lenten offering is to think of
what Jesus went through and then compare
it to what I am sacrificing. Suddenly,
whatever I gave up doesn’t seem
as difficult, and I’m usually re-energized.
Stick to the necessities. I’m always
irritated when my kids ask for something
just because they can—a toy, a
snack, a drink. Encourage your kids to
ask themselves if they really need something
before they ask. Ask them if they
need to have a snack before bedtime.
Have them try to go to a store without
asking for a toy, or drive past a fast-food
restaurant without asking to get
something. For yourself, make an effort
at the grocery to purchase only the
Seek out new ideas. One of the
problems with doing something over
and over again is that it can get stale.
For instance, I think I gave up candy
every year for most of my childhood.
There was no real thought behind it; it
was just what I did. This year, try to be
creative and put some real thought into
your Lenten sacrifice.
Next Month: Facing Down Our Own Gethsemane