Even if you’ve been giving something up for Lent for many years, it’s easy to find yourself struggling as time goes by. When that leads to breaking your Lenten promise, you might feel discouraged or that you’ve failed in your relationship with God. What should you do?
Through the teachings of our founder, Venerable Bruno Lanteri, we are reminded that God’s love and mercy allow us to begin again. By recommitting to our Lenten sacrifice, we humbly admit our shortcomings and ask Him to strengthen us.
“If I should fall even a thousand times a day, a thousand times, with peaceful repentance, I will say immediately, Nunc Coepi [Now I begin]”Venerable Bruno Lanteri
Why is Giving Something Up for Lent Important?
Throughout Lent, prayer, fasting, almsgiving and a personal sacrifice can all help you grow closer to God and your neighbor. They help make your love for God as real as for someone standing next to you.
In the words of Father Tom Carzon, OMV:
“Prayer is simply talking with and listening to God, sharing what is on my heart and letting God speak to my heart.
Fasting removes unnecessary things I hold on to that get in the way of reaching out to others. It also helps me feel compassion for others in their need.
Almsgiving brings me into communion with an actual person. By saying, ‘Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me,’ Jesus tells us he is as close as this person in front of me.”
When you pick a thing to give up for Lent, you’re making a personal sacrifice as a sort of spiritual exercise to help you deepen your relationship with Jesus Christ. Giving something up for Lent, combined with prayer and almsgiving, can be a labor of love rather than one of discouragement—even when you think you’ve “messed up.”
Breaking and Re-Making Lenten Promises
Did you give something up for Lent and haven’t been able to follow through? It’s not uncommon to pick a sacrifice that’s more than you can handle, and it’s especially challenging when you feel like it’s a burden you need to carry all alone.
In this situation, Father Tom calls on the words of Venerable Lanteri, who wrote that “First desires are generally strong and hasty, we must guard against coming to ruin on account of them.” We can easily get discouraged and be tempted to abandon the good we set out to do, but “[i]n this regard one must not seek to fly if one does not have wings.”
Put simply, breaking your Lenten promise like sneaking a piece of chocolate that you swore to give up is not the end. Practicing humility and honesty about yourself before God is also a way to strengthen your relationship with Him.
Even Father Tom says the discipline of Lent makes him depend more on God, not on himself. Venerable Lanteri reminds us that “Holiness does not consist in never failing, but in rising immediately, recognizing our weakness and asking God’s forgiveness, and in doing this with peace of heart, without letting ourselves be troubled.”
Give Yourself the Grace to Start Over
God’s closeness and mercy are what give us the strength to get up and make a new beginning. Rather than finding a new thing to give up for Lent, stick to what you’re already doing—but with love rather than thoughtlessly.
Father Tom suggests simple adjustments, like slowing down your meals, thanking God and savoring the food you’re eating. Or putting down your phone and being present in the moment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to come out of Lent more connected to God and one another? That would be a great victory, and something worth carrying over into Easter and beyond.
You can also turn to readings like Venerable Lanteri’s Counsels of Mercy, or Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s reflections in Overcoming Spiritual Discouragement for daily reminders to keep your heart open to one another and to God.
Turn Toward God, Not Away
Venerable Lanteri advises us, “Do not let yourself be troubled by anything, not even by your own failings, taking care to overcome them immediately by an act of love of God.” In other words, if giving something up for Lent is starting to go sideways, remember that our failings, no matter how big or small, can become a place where we meet God. In turn, God touches us with his healing strength.
Don’t let Lent turn into a period where you hide from God, ashamed of your struggles with prayer, fasting or almsgiving. You can always begin again and overcome spiritual discouragement. After all, in the words of Father Tom, “Lent is meant to show us how close God comes to us, no matter what. It teaches us to ask and offer forgiveness, and to discover the unfailing power and joy of mercy. Lent doesn’t make us heroes. It makes us friends—friends of God and one another.”
Have you had a hard time with giving something up for Lent? What keeps you from turning to God for help? Please join us in the comments below and know that we always welcome the opportunity to pray for you.
Join Us for Online Mass During Lent
As you reflect on the meaning of Lent, we invite you to tune in to virtual Lenten Mass services! Watch special livestreams from St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in addition to our daily Mass videos.