I have a small list of sacrifices. On it are small, ordinary things I do each day or week out of love. Perhaps the hardest one each day is the first: getting up on time. Admittedly, this is often times the one I struggle with the most. Other sacrifices include waiting until certain times to check my phone/email, eating my least favorite part of the meal first and my favorite part last, or having a simpler breakfast on Fridays.
These are simple, concrete sacrifices I voluntarily take on all throughout the year. In Lent, we as a Church take on a few additional sacrifices: no meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays in Lent as well as fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. To those, I usually add no sweets throughout Lent.
To many, these little sacrifices might seem silly, and in fact, pointless. Yet, tell that to the athlete who is training for a marathon when he skips the pizza and orders the salad. Or to the engaged couple who, in the months leading up to their wedding, avoid the heavy desserts they used to enjoy in order to keep as trim a figure as possible for their beloved.
You see, sacrifice is an ordinary part of life. In order to accomplish anything, much must be given up. To be a good parent, one can’t be at parties six nights a week like a single person might. To be a good worker, one must give up one’s desires to do whatever one wants when he or she wants it, so the job can get done. In order to be a good spouse, one must be faithful and give up every other opportunity for romantic love aside from one’s spouse.
That’s what sacrifice (or penance) is all about. And it’s not just for Lent. I do it for a number of reasons but here are three:
- Self-control: Without sacrifice, life is a slippery slope toward utter selfishness and the gratification of all desires. Such a life is really one of slavery to one’s passions and ultimately, unhappiness since they can never be fully satisfied in this life.
- To make atonement: I’ve done wrong. I’ve done many, many things wrong and I keep doing what I shouldn’t do in big and small ways (though I’m trying not to). What’s more, my family and friends, my neighbors, my state, my country, our world—so many people in our time (and through all of human history) have done wrong. Why not atone for our wrongdoings now in little ways with lots of love? It’s what the husband who put his foot in his mouth does to try to make things right with his wife. Or the wife who somehow hurt her husband. Sacrifice is atonement. An act of love for someone to make things right. It tells the Beloved we love Him and want to do what is right.
- To give good example: Love is deeds, not sweet words. We tell others we love them with our actions, and most of all with what we are giving up in order to be with them. I try to, in some way, let my little sacrifices be a light that others may see and pick up on the fact that I love them and most of all that I love Him who created them and loves them more than I ever could.
I have a small list of sacrifices. My hope is that this Lent (and throughout the year), you’ll develop your own list of a handful of things you’re doing to gain self-mastery, to atone, and give good example. After all, no sweets in Lent makes that cake and ice cream on Easter taste a thousand times better than you remembered it. But that’s not the only reason to give something up.
~ Chris Spellman