By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

If there’s one thing I can say about my experience of Lent that hasn’t changed over the years, it’s that the penitential season always sneaks up on me.

It’s doing it again this year – although Ash Wednesday is still a week away, so I’m giving myself more time to prepare this year than has usually been the case in the past.

Days of giving up

As a kid I didn’t need much prep time. Our teacher – sometimes a woman religious, sometimes a lay woman – would ask us what we were each giving up. The clear implication was that we better have an answer.

If we didn’t, we had another chance to share our newly-chosen sacrifice with our classmates a bit later in the exercise.

Some answers were received better than others, but the only absolutely unacceptable answer was “nothing.” We always had to give up something.

When I told my teacher in first or second grade that I was giving up eggs for Lent, she was duly impressed. My mom not so much. She knew that I hated eggs and had, in fact, basically given them up since birth.

She explained that it wasn’t a sacrifice if I was looking forward to it. I don’t remember what I chose to give up when my ruse was exposed. But I’m sure I gave up something. That was the ironclad rule for every Catholic during Lent.

Later in life I met a regular in a local bar who always gave up drinking for Lent. Given the time he spent imbibing outside of the Lenten season, it was impressive to see him stop cold turkey – more or less.

I say “more or less” because his “less” was any Sunday in the season, which he insisted was not part of Lent, so he consumed much “more” on those Sundays than he generally did on a daily basis the rest of the year.

Nonetheless, he gave up something near and dear to him on a daily basis, and it was, indeed, a sacrifice for him.

Adding something

At some point in my life a priest suggested that it might be better for adults to aspire to do something special rather than give something up. The idea intrigued me, and that’s generally been my focus ever since.

What to add this year? I’m not sure yet, but at least I’m thinking about it a week ahead of time – instead of on Ash Wednesday, often late in the day, as has often been the case.

If you haven’t given Lent a thought before now, it’s a good time to start.

Adopting a habit

Lent is an especially good time to try to integrate a new habit into our lives.

If you’ve already dropped the ball regarding a New Year’s resolution to get more physically fit, the temptation to try again during Lent may be irresistible. If so, good for you. Go for it.

But you also might want to consider adopting a habit that helps you grow spiritually. In The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus, we suggest nine habits that will help you consistently serve as a Jesus-like S3 Leader. They are:

1. Practice solitude.

2. Pray daily.

3. Read Scripture.

4. Worship and receive the sacraments regularly.

5. Explore the lives and reflections of saints and Christian scholars.

6. Consider sacramentals and devotions that flourish in the Church.

7. Accept and model unconditional love.

8. Serve others.

9. Build community.

Just do it

From our perspective, it doesn’t matter what you do ... or what you decide to give up. All that matters is that you do it.

Try to find a little time to give the matter some thought between now and next Wednesday. But if you don’t, you can trust that we’ll be back urging you on to having a great, growth-filled Lent.

Just remember that the point isn’t to simply improve yourself in some way, it’s to help you adopt an ever more Jesus-like mind – about God, our neighbor and the world.

Hope you find your thing ... soon.