Growing up in Catholic school, it was always a given that we’d give something up during Lent, the 40 days preceding Easter. We even had these construction paper “rocks” (which totally looked like potatoes) , and we had to write what we were giving up on the back of it and tape it up on a “road to the cross” in the upstairs hallway.
When I was older I started adding something to do during Lent instead of giving something up, but there are some good reasons to go the traditional route and sacrifice something. Doing without something may give you extra money you can use for a good cause. Sacrificing a thing that takes up a lot of your time can free you up to be more present for others. When you give something up, every time you think of it you turn inward a little bit. Just like a kid in a toy store, sometimes even adults need to be reminded that you can’t get everything you want.
Every year around this time, I go through a mental list of things I can give up (or start doing), and take inventory of how much they will suck. Things that are too easy get the axe, but some things just seem impossible. Now that it’s Ash Wednesday (or, as most people I run into today call it, “Hey, did you know you have something on your forehead?”), here are my assessments:
Without fail, every year my teacher would suggest that we give up candy for Lent, saying that we could bring in our candy money to donate to charity instead. And without fail, every year I thought “who the heck are these children whose parents give them candy money?” I didn’t get an allowance and I sure didn’t get a special allowance just to rot my teeth. I don’t think most adults eat enough candy to make this a sacrifice, but maybe this would work if you have a real sweet tooth. It won’t alter the course of your whole life or anything, but this will do as a small sacrifice.
I think what giving up candy is to a child, giving up coffee would be to an adult. You could even give your coffee money to a good cause. But the downside is, if you give up coffee you CANNOT DRINK COFFEE. I suppose you could sub in tea or soda if you are just giving up coffee, not caffeine. If you’re looking for some serious self-denial, this would be it.
Another thought: add up how much you’d spend on coffee, and get a few gift cards to a nearby chain coffee place to hand out the next time someone on the street asks you for money for food.
Ah, here we go. One year I gave up The Devil’s Water, and I was so glad I did. By now we all know that soda is bad for you and diet soda (my poison of choice) is really, really bad for you. As with coffee, every time you think of going to that soda machine you can stash away the $1.25 or whatever and give it to someone who needs it.
One year my grandfather gave up beer. He took up whiskey. So, make sure you’re specific about this! Now that I’m a real-live adult this wouldn’t make a difference to me, but during college? Now THAT’s a sacrifice.
Giving up fast food, if it’s something you eat regularly, will really force you to be more intentional. You have to plan, shop, and cook – and you just may find that you like it! You’ll probably save a few bucks, as well. If you’re a regular fast-foodie, you can take a cue from the coffee-quitters and buy some small gift cards for the fast food place you would be going to, and give them to people or organizations that can use them.
So, here’s the thing about dessert. If you eat it regularly, this is a great thing to give up because it will be a real sacrifice. But if you’re using giving up dessert as a way to get a jump-start on some sort of weight loss goal, that sort of feels like cheating. But I suppose you could just look at it as a two-for-one deal.
My plan this year was to give up makeup – honestly,I only wear it maybe half the time anyway. The plan started because I absolutely loathe those Dove Real Beauty ads, especially the one featuring a heavily freckled woman posing in front of two checkboxes reading, “flawed?” and “flawless?” or – in a “sassier” version, “”ugly spots?” and “beauty spots?” As the freckliest person I’ve seen, I cringed every time l saw it. Other ads slyly tell you what you have to fix, but this one blatantly said “hey, your freckles are considered ugly by the world! (but not by your friends at Dove ® !)” The whole point of that Dove crud is that “everybody is beautiful!” which frankly I don’t agree with. Beauty is just one of many inborn advantages – like being a good writer, athletic, or musical – but it’s treated differently. It’s treated like something everybody has to have, and to me, a better message than “everyone is beautiful! (shame about those freckles)” is “it’s nice to be pretty, but if you’re not, that’s fine too!” And what better way to walk the walk than to give up cosmetics for 40 days?
And then…last week I asked for a haircut between chin and shoulder length, and it ended up being roughly ear length. I’m still a LITTLE shallow, and suddenly, I wanted the option to feel a little less ugly on the days where I look like a boy or a middle-aged lady. It was a nice idea, and I’ll still only probably wear makeup about half of the time, but I think this one will have to wait until next year for me.
Oh, you brave souls. For me, it wouldn’t be the 40 days without TV that’s hard. I don’t think I’d miss it. It’s how darn stressed out I would be about catching up on my shows afterwards! Before you say “well, why don’t you just skip those 5 weeks of episodes altogether?”, I’m going to stop you and suggest that you probably don’t really love TV or you wouldn’t be asking that question.
Another problem is avoiding TV on the internet – not even full episodes, but the constant clips from Jimmy Fallon and the like that are posted all over Facebook and Twitter. Does that count as TV? Possibly the most important consideration: how will you stay spoiler free? Lots to think about here, but always a good choice.
This was THE thing to give up several years ago, but it’s lost a bit of its punch. If you’re a very regular Facebooker, this will force you to connect with people in real life more. I use Facebook but I’m not particularly into it. I don’t even really like it. I think giving up Facebook is a great option for people like that, too — to quit doing something that takes up your time and attention that you’re only doing out of habit, anyway.
I don’t eat meat and haven’t for over 10 years. Frankly I couldn’t care less what other people do, and I don’t need to know anyone’s reasons for eating meat — I just assume that whatever the reason is, it’s probably valid. [Oddly enough, the only times it comes up is when someone finds out I don’t eat meat, and tries to start an argument with me – when I’d NEVER confront them about their personal habits and choices. Don’t do that. End rant.] But for Lent, I will suggest that it’s worth a try. Catholics are already doing it 1/7 of the time anyway, right? It’s not even hard to eat a completely vegetarian diet if you don’t have other dietary restrictions. Still, it will come up often enough that you’ll probably feel like it’s a bit of a sacrifice. If you feel like looking up the moral and ethical concerns of eating meat, you can be happy to know that taking a 40-day break could make a little dent in things – you don’t have to give it up altogether.
Back in the days when the internet was just, you know, chatrooms and Geocities fan pages, this was a viable option. This would be so hard though, because how would you find anything out? Or get directions to places? Not to mention, most of us need to use email and the internet for work. I guess you could give up what people used to(?) call “surfing the internet,” and just use it for business and practical purposes. Clearly, we won’t be doing that.
I did this during the winter of Britney Spears’ discontent. Remember the shaved head? It was hard going, but worth it.
The Weirdest Things You Can Give Up
I “surfed the Internet” (bringing it back, y’all) to see what other people were giving up, and there were some exceptionally WTF answers. To wit: Using the dishwasher (FYI: hand-washing uses significantly more water, so save the earth and use the damn dishwasher, Christians); shoes (for the Lent observer who doesn’t go out in public and wants to celebrate Easter Sunday with fewer than 10 toes); electricity (I mean are you MOVING TO A HUT IN THE WILDERNESS?? because otherwise that’s not going to work great); Catholicism (that joke was only funny the first time); chips (like candy, I wonder who eats chips that often. I think I only eat them when I forget to upgrade to fries with my sandwich. Look, I never said I was healthy); your car (viable in some locations, but even as person who takes the bus to work, this morning I’d have had to walk 2 miles in 5-degree temperatures with no sidewalks to get to the nearest stop. So, NO); carbs (that’s called Atkins, not Lent, weirdo); and Buzzfeed quizzes (actually, for all of our sakes, how about you at least give up posting your Buzzfeed quiz results on social media.)