One of my favorite psalms is Psalm 51 - particularly verses 10-12:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.This is basically what Lent is all about - a clean heart is one that has cast down its idols having been cleansed by the precious Blood of Christ. Lent is a time when we are invited to be drawn more deeply into the presence of God and filled with the Holy Spirit, that Easter joy may fill us after forty days of willingly offering ourselves as a living sacrifice in union with the sacrifice of Christ. This is the intention behind giving up something during Lent - to cast down your idols in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
So when deciding what to give up for Lent the question is not 'what is going to help me lose weight?' or 'what is going to help me save money?'. The question is 'what needs to be rooted out of my life so that I can be more filled with the Holy Spirit?', 'what idols do I need to be rid of so that my relationship with God is the top priority in my life?'. Think about it - what good is it going to do me if I give up soda for forty days if I still give in to pride? What good is it if I give up candy for a few weeks if I still give in to lust? What good is it if I give up ice cream but still give in to envy? Soda, candy and ice cream are not the problem - sin is. Is there any virtue or growth in giving up gum but still getting drunk every weekend? Any virtue in giving up coffee but still watching pornography? Any virtue in giving up chocolate but continuing to gossip?
I must present a challenge to myself to not make Lent trivial and give up the same favorite food that I have given up every year since I was twelve and then forty days later gorge myself with it. Lent is about transformation - allowing my God to replace my stony heart with a heart of flesh - a heart that can authentically love. Lent does not have to be a mediocre experience, nor does life. Too often I allow myself to settle for mediocrity instead of living out the goodness of God's plan for me - to become who he made me to be. Too often I let laziness, fear, doubt, discouragement get the better of me and convince me that I'm not worth it. God has placed his Spirit within us which means we don't have to settle - we have the ability by God's grace to enter into the beauty of human existence. I don't have to listen to Satan's lies and neither do you. The potency of grace that is freely available to us during Lent is magnificent if we would open our hearts to receive it. Do whatever it takes to be a saint. Give up the sin in my life, add more prayer time in my day - whatever it takes to cast down my idols and be filled with the Holy Spirit - that's what I want my Lent to be about. It's not about how hard I try to do it on my own because that would be impossible - I simply can't do it on my own, I'm not strong enough and I wasn't made to ever do anything on my own - it's about how much I am willing to cooperate with God's grace to allow him to transform my heart. It may not be easy, but the most joyous Easters that I've ever experienced have been the ones that followed the most difficult and arduous Lents.
And just to end on a fun note: