It’s Lent. Don’t Give Up!

Another Lent is already upon us.  It hardly seems possible.

When we think of Lent, we usually think of “giving up” something.  We ask each other, “What are you going to give up for Lent this year?”  Yet I believe this approach somehow misses the mark.  Lent is not a time for giving up.  I repeat:  LENT IS NOT A TIME FOR GIVING UP.  Let me explain.

In our common, everyday use of the phrase “giving up,” we generally mean “throwing in the towel.”  We think of defeat.  When, for example, my brother John and I were young, we would sometimes wrestle, and I was the one who would almost always get pinned.  John wouldn’t let me up until I said: “Uncle!  I give up!”  Nowadays, if someone poses me a problem or riddle and I can’t find the answer, I simply say, “I give up.”  This sort of talk goes on all around us.  A hockey team that relinquishes first place is said to have “given up” the cup.  A champion prizefighter who loses to an opponent is forced to “give up” his title.  A person who is full of despair is rightly described as one who has “given up” all hope.  Giving up implies defeat, and we must be very careful when it comes to Lent not to give the impression that this season is a time for giving up.  Lent is not a time for giving up.  Lent is a time for giving.  (By the way, I also feel uncomfortable when we speak of a woman as “giving up” her baby for adoption.  Why do we use the language of defeat to describe what is often a noble act of giving?)

When we consider Our Lord’s death on the Cross, we must never for a moment succumb to the notion that He gave up anything.  Jesus never gave up, even as He endured His cruel Passion and suffered the ignominy of crucifixion.  Christ didn’t give up.  Rather, He emptied Himself so as to give to others.  Our Lord offered His life so that He could bring us eternal life.  He offered His Body so that He could feed us with His own flesh.  He offered His Blood so that He could wash away our sins.

If we wish to share in Our Lord’s Passion this Lent so as to share in His Resurrection this Easter, we had better put aside all thoughts of giving up.  We are not to give up.  Instead we are to give.  Oh yes, we will have to empty ourselves of our selves through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  This kind of pouring forth has nothing to do with giving up.  It has everything to do with giving.  Self-emptying is not a sign of giving up or defeat.  It is the prerequisite of true giving—of sacrifice.

A loving mother who makes sacrifices for the sake of her children never says, “Look what I have given up!”  She knows she has given up nothing.  She knows she has given.  So when we make sacrifices this Lent—when we pray, fast, and give to the poor—we are not giving up.  We are most definitely giving.

To empty your cup

Is not giving up.

It’s a kind of giving

That makes life worth living.