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Topics: Spirituality | Opinion

What to give up for Lent when we’ve already given up so much

No one feels like abstaining from chocolate after a year of sacrifices

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“What are you giving up for Lent?” This is the ritual conversation this time of year. Abstinence and fasting are meant to encourage us to reflect on Christ’s suffering and his dying on the cross. They are also meant to increase our awareness of our reliance on the material things that make us feel self-sufficient and secure, so that we turn to God instead.

Self-sufficient and secure? Much of 2020 had us trying to navigate the unknown, and we continue to fumble in 2021. Christian or not, we all sacrificed in different ways and for much longer than the 40 days of Lent.

With hardly any warning, we sacrificed human touch and hunkered down, physically distancing from friends and family. We missed out on graduations, classes and going to the gym. We made lines outside the grocery stores. We scrambled for toilet paper, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizers. We witnessed racial injustices and endured damaging statements from people in positions of power. We came to realize how many of our friends and family have widely differing perspectives from ours on those matters. And we are all now very much aware of how quickly our veil of security can be taken away from us.

Do we really need to give up coffee, chocolate, meat or Facebook this year?


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Throughout the pandemic, the sacrifices we experienced and the kindnesses we offered others were probably more heartfelt than the ritualized ones we have practised during Lent in past years. While recognizing some of it was mandatory, we did these things because we wanted to be a unified community.

So if the act of giving up something is meant to reorient us to Christ, shouldn’t we be well oriented by now? Can we please get a pass this year?

Still, there is a difference between giving up things for Lent and what we have given up for the pandemic. With our Lenten sacrifices, there is no fear of the unknown; there is no despair. We know that in the end, we will be celebrating a new life given to us through the resurrection. Our hope is assured. We turn to God in gratitude. We acknowledge God’s steadfast love, grace and mercy.

The past 12 months have been difficult. We lost many things. But hopefully we discovered how Christ has walked with us, and we have understood how we can walk with others in a Christ-like manner. We don’t need to challenge ourselves by giving up something else. We just need to continue to express the authentic concern for each other that we have already exhibited during the pandemic and do so prayerfully. This is how we can continue to live with the assurance of the Easter hope.

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Rev. Shalini Rajack-Sankarlal is a minister at University Community Church in Windsor, Ont.

This column first appeared in Broadview’s March 2021 issue with the title “Lent in the pandemic.”


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  • says:

    Perhaps a little background on the 'spiritual discipline of fasting which is the biblical description of what we moderns 'giving up something". The 'fast' reminds us that our first "hunger" is for God (who is love). Jesus practiced it. The fast is the intentional discipline of not responding to the superficial impulse that drive our habits. The fast moves us into a deeper awareness of our hunger (reliance) on God. This is how a seasoned spiritual directors / mentors might describe the discipline of fasting at lent to a student. Whether one thinks it is relevant or not is not really getting at the heart of the spiritual discipline.