Lenten Sacrifice

First things first...a confession...I didn't sacrifice anything for Lent this year. If I had, I wouldn't be writing this post! I'll explain why in a minute.

I grew up Catholic. Lent, for my little girl brain, was a time of eating fish sticks on Fridays and wondering what sort of goodies I'd find in my Easter basket. I know...not exactly what Lent is supposed to be about. But it's the truth.

I remember Palm Sunday - not for the message in church, but for the little braids and crosses I'd try to make after church with my palm branch. Oh yeah, and for the getting sprinkled with holy water by the priest.

I remember Easter Sunday. The frilly dresses, the Easter basket hay that stuck to everything in sight (for the next 6 months), the smell of hard-boiled eggs, coloring eggs with my family, and the chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

One year was particularly memorable because our dog got into my Easter basket of goodies while we were at church. I found everything that wasn't edible strewn all over my bedroom...and every morsel of jelly bean and chocolate was gone.

My first reaction was "Oh no! The dog's going to die of chocolate poisoning!"

My second reaction was "Oh no! There's no chocolate left for me!"

My third reaction was "I hope the blasted dog dies of chocolate poisoning!"

I'm so spiritual.

And every year, I "gave something up" for Lent. Not because I wanted to or even understood why I was doing it, but because I knew it was something that was expected of me. By who? I don't really know. My parents certainly never had any "must sacrifice for Lent" rule. It must have been that unspoken, slightly uncertain, yet very real Catholic guilt :)

Somewhere along the line, the real lessons and messages of Lent started to sink in. I began to understand what the season of Lent is about. I began to think more and more about what Jesus went through in those days and weeks leading up to his time on the cross.

I would hold that palm branch in my hand on Palm Sunday, and I'd close my eyes and imagine a branch very similar to the one in my hand being walked on. Walked on by a lowly donkey, which carried my Savior on it's back.

And I would sacrifice something for Lent that was a little more painful for me. It was usually something pretty silly and superficial like a particular food, or a particular TV show. But I always tried to choose something that stung just a little bit when I missed it. I wanted the regular reminder that this was a time to be preparing my heart and head for Easter.

And I would always keep it private. I didn't want my Lenten sacrifice to become a "woe is me" type of thing (that's what I was referring to when I said that I wouldn't be writing this post if I had given something up.)

And now I'll stop rambling about my memories, and get to the reason I started this post in the first place!

There was one season of Lent that was so special to me. I learned a lesson during that season that has stuck with me to this day.

I had given up chocolate. I was an adult, and therefore eating chocolate whenever I darn well pleased! Giving it up was tough on me. I REALLY missed my friend, I mean chocolate!

Well, there came a time when I forgot that I had given up chocolate, and had a piece. I immediately thought, "Oh well, no big deal. I guess I blew it...back to chocolate!" That was my pattern: sacrifice, make a mistake, totally give up.

Remember me? I'm the real spiritual one.

But there was something different that year. I went a day or two - I ate chocolate like I had never given it up - but I felt a strange twinge every time. My conscience wasn't clear. I wasn't enjoying the chocolate. Well...I was enjoying it...but not with that totally guilt-free type of enjoyment.

It was as if the Spirit was saying "Hey! We had a deal, you and me!"

One day it dawned on me...I consider myself a very trustworthy and loyal and dependable person. If I tell you that I will (or will not) do something...I will do everything- EVERY thing- in my power to keep my word. You can count on me.

So why didn't this wonderful dependability of mine apply to my relationship with God? I realized that until that very moment...until I really thought about God as someone that I am in a real and personal relationship with...until then, I don't know that God was REAL to me. He was sort of this nebulous cloud of spirituality and love...but not entirely real and up-close-and-personal for me.

In that moment he became real. He became up-close-and-personal. He became someone who mattered to me. He became someone that I needed to keep my word with. He became my friend. He became my LORD.

I confessed to him that I hadn't been real with him ("I know"). I asked his forgiveness ("already done"). I renewed my desire to sacrifice something during Lent so that I could regularly contemplate what he had sacrificed for me. And I'll tell ya what...I stuck to that sacrifice. Not because I'm so holy or good. Not even because I wanted to remember what Lent was all about.

I stuck with it because I made a promise to someone who matters to me. Someone who is real. Someone who is disappointed and hurt when I don't follow through on my promises to him.

Someone who I love. ("I love you too")

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