Here it comes.

THE question. The one that’s gnawing at your insides and filling your quiet moments with fret.

What are you giving up for Lent?

Well, perhaps it’s not as fretful to you as it is to me. If not, I’m happy for you. I fret because I never know what to give up and usually end up changing my mind three or four times before I finally decide.

What am I giving up for Lent?

For me, giving up the usual stuff—sweets, favorite foods, television or movies, for example—doesn’t work. I’m already on a restricted diet (have been for years and years) and I watch very little TV and only an occasional movie.

So, giving something up doesn’t mean all that much to me, Lent-wise.

Instead, I prefer to DO something that will effect a change in me, something that will move me toward the conversion that Christ asks of me. In that respect, I spend my Lents focusing on the doing rather than the not-doing and this Lent will be no different.

The inspiration for observing Lent comes from Jesus’ forty days in the desert, when he fasted, prayed, and resisted the temptations of the devil. This took place after he was baptized by John (Mt 3:13-17) and before he called his disciples and began his public ministry (Mt 4:12-25).

Based on Jesus’ example, I draw a parallel for myself in my own life. Like our Lord in the desert, I’m between my Baptism and my ministry in the sense that every Lent should be for me a time to step back and prepare for the next segment of the mission God has given to me.

For Lent, I go into the “desert” in order to be cleansed of all that hinders me and strengthened for all that I must do. When I emerge from Lent, I should be ready to again take up my mission, but with deeper faith and in greater likeness of Christ.

Every Lent, I must undergo a conversion from my old self to a new self who can better serve our Lord.

The challenge is to do whatever will be most effective toward that goal. For me, giving something up has far less impact that taking on spiritual practices and devotions that will lead me toward real self-examination, re-evaluation, and renewal.

That looks a bit different from year to year, depending on what’s going on in my life and where I’ve most gone astray.

This year, I think the writing is on the wall—or on the door, as the case may be—since Pope Francis has proclaimed the Year of Mercy. By the Pope’s actions, I’m being called to become a more merciful person. By Christ’s example, I’m being called to live mercy in a very real way.

Thus, one of the things I’ve chosen to do for Lent is to pass through at least four Doors of Mercy between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. God knows I have plenty of sins of my own for which I need those indulgences, but I also have plenty of folks I love who have passed away and need them as well.

Aside from the indulgences themselves, I’m sensing that I need the mercy—to both receive and give it—in order to effect a more substantial conversion in me.

That’s the biggie for this Lent, the main thing I’ll do instead of giving something up. There will be others things as well, most of which is too private to share in a blog post. Regardless, the theme I’ve set for myself for Lent 2016 is: Conversion of Mercy. I want to come out of Lent having experienced, and given, more mercy than I ever have before.

So, now, let me ask you. What are you giving up for Lent?