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Giving up stuff? Lent is a season of freedom, not restriction

Lent chocolate give up sacrifice

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Scarlett Rose Ford - published on 02/17/24

Our daily sacrifices are not burdens but tokens of love for the One who loves us; a Valentine's Ash Wednesday reminded that Lent is a time to resolve to fall deeper in love with God.

When I asked my brother to be my Confirmation sponsor almost a decade ago, I expected a slew of brotherly critiques on my spiritual life. Being two years my senior, he prepared me for the sacrament by driving me to Sunday Mass and quizzing me on the readings or the homily. One day while I was checking social media on the car ride home, he made a comment that stuck with me: “Imagine if instead of being on your phone all the time, you spent that time in prayer.” While he meant this as nothing more than an insult to annoy me— which worked at the time — it’s now a token of wisdom that I ponder frequently. Especially as Lent approached this year with my screen time on the rise, this comment was at the forefront of my mind: What if I did spend my daily phone time in prayer?

There’s a common misconception that Lent is a time of restriction or limitation. Until recently, I thought of it as 40 days of giving something up to co-suffer with Jesus’ Passion and subsequently receiving the joy of getting it back with the Resurrection. While this is one way to view the season, it didn’t lead me to any spiritual formation, only personal (and sometimes even prideful) satisfaction in completing my goal. 

A few years ago, I heard a priest explain a new way of viewing Lent that transformed how I experienced the season: Lent is not about restricting our freedom but rather delving deeper into that freedom. The things we give up should make room for God in our lives, such as replacing excessive phone use with prayer. Freeing myself from my screen addiction did just that: It allowed me to experience more freedom through Christ, therefore growing closer to Him each day.

With this new outlook on Lent, the season became one that bears prosperous fruit, not one in which I slowly wilt away. Our daily sacrifices are not burdens but tokens of love for the One who loves us, and especially this year as Ash Wednesday coincided with the feast of St. Valentine, Lent is a time to resolve to fall deeper in love with God. While this is something we should always aim to do, it’s especially pertinent in the anticipation of the greatest love story — the Passion and Resurrection. 

The beauty of this love between ourselves and God is that this relationship is unique; the season will look different for each person. Yet what remains constant for us all is that Lent is about removing the things that hinder us from furthering our relationship with God, freeing us to fall fully in love with Him. It may be useful to examine ourselves daily, Imagine if instead of doing ___ all the time, what if I spent that time in prayer?

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