What You Should Give Up for Lent

16 suggestions to help you grow closer to God this season

‘Cross’ (photo: Rick Schroeppel / Shutterstock)

When Moses asked God who spoke in the guise of the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-21) as to his identity, God answered, “I Am Who Am.”

In other words, God said he is “Existence Itself.”

We have so much to be thankful for.

Even those whose lives are full of pain and misfortune should pause to give thanks for their existence which is a gift of He Who Is.

And for all of the things for which we should be thankful, what is the best way to show thanks?

Ties and cufflinks aren’t good gifts to Someone who can make entire galaxies and is outside space and time. Rather, God wants us. He wants us to give ourselves to him freely as we would give ourselves to This Tremendous Lover:

Help me to speak, Lord and I will praise You. You do not want sacrifices, or I would offer them; You are not pleased with burnt offerings. My sacrifice is a humble spirit, O God; You will not reject a humble and repentant heart. (Psalm 51:15-17)

He has even given us hints as to an appropriate gift for him:

The Lord says, ‘Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house, then, could you build for me; what kind of place for me to live in? I myself created the whole universe! I am pleased with those who are humble and repentant, who fear me and obey me.’ (Isaiah 66:1-2)

What do you give the God who literally has everything?

Thankfully, the Bible is full of great gift options:

You do not want sacrifices, or I would offer them; you are not pleased with burnt offerings. My sacrifice is a humble spirit, O God; you will not reject a humble and repentant heart. (Psalm 51:16-17)

Lent is our love letter to God. To get the most out of it — to understand this glorious, life-giving season — we must first put aside our selfishness.

As Lent approaches each year, everyone asks Catholics what they are giving up. This is certainly a season of self-denial but many Catholics are a bit uncertain as to why we give up a luxury for the 40 days of Lent. Some will take their self-denial to such an extreme as to be blind as to how cranky or snarky they’ve become. This is defeating the purpose of fasting and abstinence as you’re doing no one, including yourself, any good at all.

When considering whether or not self-denial is a worthwhile endeavor, consider first what self-indulgence has done for the world. When we fast, we seek balance and healing between body and soul, between this world and the next, between ourselves and the One who made us. By fasting, we are once again made whole in Christ.

This love fills us and overflows onto the world around us to ignite a love for God in the hearts of others we meet. When we deny ourselves, we come to a better understanding of what truly is important. Self-indulgence never did anything except make people fatter, drunker, more insensate and less compassionate.

Our natural state is one of narcissism. There are many belief systems that propagate this natural selfishness such as Ayn Rand’s objectivism, Nietzscheism and satanism but these philosophies have produced nothing but misery for their adherents and for the world in general. To find God, we must abandon our self-love and trust in him. And all those who we consider saints it have actively engaged in these ascetic practices including Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

But for those who are still not convinced, consider what benefit would come from self-indulgence. Have there ever been self-indulgent people who are great humanitarians? Has obesity, drunkenness, sexual incontinence, moral turpitude, narcissism, greed, selfishness, anger or lack of charity ever helped humanity? The Christian takes up his cross (Matthew 16:24). We deny ourselves to love God and others.

What to Give Up for Lent

Give up complaining ... focus on gratitude. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky (Philippians 2:14-15).

Give up despair ... become hopeful. The Lord himself will lead you and be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you, so do not lose courage or be afraid (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Give up harsh judgments ... think kindly thoughts. Do not judge others, and God will not judge you; do not condemn others, and God will not condemn you; forgive others, and God will forgive you (Luke 6:37).

Give up worry ... trust Divine Providence. This is why I tell you: do not be worried about the food and drink you need in order to stay alive, or about clothes for your body. After all, isn’t life worth more than food? And isn’t the body worth more than clothes? (Matthew 6:25)

Give up bitterness ... turn to forgiveness. Get rid of all bitterness, passion and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort (Ephesians 4:31).

Give up hatred ... return good for evil. If we say that we are in the light, yet hate others, we are in the darkness to this very hour (1 John 2:9).

Give up negativism ... be positive. For it was by hope that we were saved; but if we see what we hope for, then it is not really hope. For who among us hopes for something we see? (Romans 8:24)

Give up anger ... be more patient. Hot tempers cause arguments, but patience brings peace (Proverbs 15:18).

Give up pettiness ... become mature. When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child; now that I am an adult, I have no more use for childish ways (Colossians 13:11).

Give up gloom ... enjoy the beauty that is all around you. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ (Ephesians 4:32).

Give up jealousy ... pray for trust. We must not be proud or irritate one another or be jealous of one another (Galatians 5:26).

Give up gossiping ... control your tongue. Then keep from speaking evil and from telling lies (Psalm 34:13).

Give up sin ... turn to virtue. And we know that our old being has been put to death with Christ on his cross, in order that the power of the sinful self might be destroyed, so that we should no longer be the slaves of sin (Romans 6:6).

Give up foolishness ... become wise. Stupid people are happy with their foolishness, but the wise will do what is right (Proverbs 15:21).

Give up selfishness ... become generous. Where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is also disorder and every kind of evil (James 3:16).

Give up giving up ... hang in there! Some trust in their war chariots and others in their horses, but we trust in the power of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7).