Lenten Pitfall #2: Treating Lenten Sacrifices like New Year’s Resolutions

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So you finished off the last paczki and feasted on all of your favorite food and drink in anticipation of jump starting your diet on Ash Wednesday and getting back on track with your New Year’s resolution to lose weight. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t God all about second chances? Here’s your opportunity to give your resolutions another chance.

The problem is that resolutions tend to be all about you, whereas Lent is all about God. It’s not a second chance to get those resolutions right, but a second chance to get right with God. Sure, you may forego sweets, with the benefit of losing weight, but if your reason for giving up sweets or starting an exercise program is to lose weight rather than to grow closer to God, then you are doomed to fail.

A few years ago I gave up sweets for Lent, hoping for a sweet surprise on Easter of me being a few pounds lighter. That didn’t happen, thereby robbing me of the illusion that all I had to do to lose weight was give up my sugar treats. Sure, it was a sacrifice, but not necessarily one that reaped spiritual benefits as I had ulterior motives.

This year I’m giving up sweets, but I’m not just giving up my daily chocolate snack and ice cream desserts, I’m trying to break my addiction to sweets, a spiritual enterprise. As all twelve step groups acknowledge, the way to overcome addiction is not through our own power but through relying on God’s help and intervention.

With some trepidation I took on this plan. When I used to give up sweets for Lent as a kid, for some reason I remember it as being easier. I think I had more will power back then. Now, it feels like my will power has all slipped away from years of compromise and just getting by. But that’s okay. Overcoming addictions isn’t a matter of will power but submitting to a higher power. I think I can do that.

Sugar is such an integral part of our American culture that ridding our diet of all sugar is as impossible as getting rid of all sodium. Sugar and salt are found in so many of the processed foods we eat every day. I’m not trying to get rid of all sugar, but I am trying to break myself of my sugar habit. Even as I try this, I find myself sneaking in sweet substitutes. I may have given up desserts, but that doesn’t mean I can’t treat myself to a pop or hot chocolate, I tell myself, or a glass of wine, another sugary treat. I find myself reaching for these items instead of my pieces of dark chocolate. Chances are I won’t find myself any pounds lighter come Easter, but I’m learning about the challenge of food addictions.

Maybe you have decided to start an exercise program this Lent, but if so, do it because these bodies are temples of God and so worthy of care and respect. Do it because you want to be healthy in order to better serve God and others. Try making it a Lenten discipline as you pump weights and pray for those in need. You can take your broken New Year resolutions, and turn them into a spiritual resolution by taking the focus off of you and putting it on God.

What about you? How are you doing on those New Year’s resolutions? Are there any you can convert into a Lenten sacrifice?

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