Every year when Lent rolls around and I start thinking about what my Lenten sacrifice should be, I get a little anxious. I want to come up with the perfect idea — one that isn’t too hard so that I can do it successfully, but one that isn’t too easy so I’m still challenged. I end up thinking more about my potential success or failure than the way my sacrifice might help shape my soul for Jesus.
I think that reveals something: When it comes to my Lenten sacrifice, I tend to think more about myself than I think about Jesus. Many of my Lenten sacrifices have the secondary benefit of making me healthier, more productive, more fit, but not necessarily holier. It ends up being more about me — am I gonna be able to do it, how am I gonna feel about myself if I fail, what will I get out of what I choose? My perfectionism and self-reliance kick in, and I end up missing the point completely.
Lent isn’t about me, it’s about Jesus. It’s about his love for me on the cross. It’s about the suffering he endured as he spent time in the desert. It’s about his strength to face temptations even without his most basic needs, much less comforts, being present. It’s not about me being perfect. It’s not about my success or failure. It’s not about me.
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Since January, I’ve been listening to Ascension and Father Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” podcast. As Father Mike spoke in the podcast about the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, he emphasized a point I’ve never thought about before. After the original sin was committed, Adam and Eve are cursed with pain in childbearing and toil in labor. But, he says, this “curse” is not a curse at all, but a remedy. Through the consequences of the Fall, Adam and Eve must once again learn that love requires sacrifice. And to remedy the Fall, they must now choose to love each other and their family through pain, toil and sacrifice.
Before I had my son, I didn’t realize how much life was all about me and required very little sacrifice. I would regularly sleep 9-10 hours a night because “I really needed it.” I cooked what I wanted to cook. My husband and I did whatever we wanted to do every day outside of work. It was fine for the season we were in, but little was asked of me in terms of sacrificing basic everyday comforts.
But then, in a matter of seconds, my life was no longer about me. My sleep depended on what my son needed. I cook things that I know he can also eat. We plan our days around nap times, meal times and baby-friendly activities. We even gave up social media and most television because it was getting in the way of us being present to our son.
These everyday sacrifices and sufferings, though small in comparison to what some people face daily, are not in vain. In love do we choose to give up certain comforts and conveniences, and the more we live for someone other than ourselves, the more my husband and I grow in holiness, humility and detachment, and the more we learn that love requires sacrifice.
When we sacrifice for what we love, we’re not just proving that we can love others by muscling our way through life’s challenges. Our selfishness, our egos and our pride are actually being healed and remedied through the very sufferings we choose to accept. The sacrifices we make are the purifying medicine that makes love what it’s supposed to be: the image of love God had for us when he created us.
And if that is true for the sacrifices we make for one another, how much more fruitful will be the sacrifices we make for Our Lord this Lent? “Nothing, how little so ever it be, if it is suffered for God’s sake, can pass without merit in the sight of God,” said Thomas à Kempis. How much more pure will our love for God be when we give up those good and comforting things that ultimately point to him in his goodness and in the comfort he brings? How much more healed and remedied will our hearts be when our sacrifices, through God’s grace, act as healing balm on our broken selves?
So this Lent, don’t worry so much about the right sacrifice and it’s perfect execution. Think about the medicine, the remedy, the healing the Lord has in store for you this season. He’s inviting us to love like him, and Lent is just one of many ways we do this. Don’t ask yourself what sacrifice will make you better. Ask yourself what sacrifice will allow the Lord to bring the most transformation to your heart and, ultimately, allow you to love like him. And when we reach the Resurrection this Easter, know that however your Lent went, your efforts in loving God through suffering and sacrifice were seen and known by him.