I’ve never been one who is good at giving things up. I truly try to be a “giver” in all that I do, but I like my toys and other distractions. Over the years when Lent came along, I’d try to figure out what to “give up” as the good Sisters taught us in school. I always thought sweets, or candy, or television or movies or some other material item that I liked, but I didn’t like the idea of losing those things. I don’t know about you, but I was more inclined to give up things that I didn’t like as much — like vegetables.
Of course, there was little value in giving up what I didn’t like or want! Generally when I chose to give up the things I liked, I wasn’t successful a lot of the time. I was very good at rationalizing why I could have that candy bar just this one time — perhaps as a reward for going two days without one. I guess I kind of lost the meaning of Lent. It is funny how my brain works. My wife would say it’s scary how my brain works!
In any case, there are reasons why we traditionally “give up stuff” during Lent. What we give up should really be something we like, or like to do or that we find pleasure in. Through this sacrifice we can learn self-control, tell ourselves “no” once in a while (what a novel idea!) and it helps us identify with the sufferings of Christ. Lent gives us that opportunity to discover those things that get in the way of our relationship with God and to give up those things that so often take over our lives. The less stuff in our lives, the more room there is for God, yourself and for others.
I believe that in my case, perhaps, I chose the wrong things to give up. Perhaps, I needed to look at giving up more than material items, perhaps I needed to look inside (not an easy thing to do) and give up those things that truly get in the way of my relationship with God and with others. Looking inside is not always fun or easy. But this year that is my intent. And just as importantly, I intend to concentrate on what I can do for others, especially those in need. I vow this Lent to give of myself. To DO something.
I recently came across a YouTube video posted by Strayer University. It struck me this might very well be a excellent visual for me and each of you to help us successfully continue our Lenten journey.
As an experiment, they placed a blackboard in the middle of New York City, asking those who pass by to write down their biggest regret. At first each regret on the blackboard seems different and unique. After all, we all have different lives and stories. The board stood empty for a long while as people stared at it. Finally, one young girl wrote, “I regret all the time I wasted not saying ‘Yes.’” Another wrote, “Not saying I love you.”
But as the board was filling up, they noticed that all of the responses had one alarming thing in common. The stories were about chances NOT taken, words NOT spoken, actions NOT taken, dreams NOT pursued. Nearly every regret contained the word NOT!
People were then given an eraser and the word NOT was soon being erased from each phrase. Each phrase became a positive and so each was ultimately erased leaving a blank blackboard. In effect a “clean slate.” The message I think is clear. It’s not the NOT but the DO.
So take a moment to look inside and write on your own blackboard. What does your blackboard look like? What regrets are listed? What sins are listed there? Can you turn each of those NOTS (things you didn’t do, shouldn’t have done or wish you had done) into a DO? This Lent let’s DO!
Remember, each of us has possibility and promise.
There is no better time than now to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to seek out God’s mercy and remake our lives. To erase all of those regrets and sins off our own blackboards. He makes all things new. To begin again with a clean slate.
This, my friends, is the message of Lent: None of us is beyond redemption. None of us is beyond a clean slate.
We only need to ask for God’s forgiveness. That is the hopeful message of Lent.
Of course, now that I’ve looked at my own blackboard, it just may have been easier to just give up those candy bars! I guess I’ll just have to give up on that slimmer waistline and work on beefing up my soul this Lent! Get me an eraser!
Anchor columnist Frank Lucca is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Fall River, a youth minister at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea, and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is married to his wife of 38 years, Kristine, and the father of two daughters and their husbands, and three grandsons. So blessed! Comments, ideas or suggestions? Please email him at DeaconFrankLucca@comcast.net.