Having gone to Catholic school for my entire life, this time of year was always full of discussions about Lenten promises, the burden of an extra long mass, and how we planned on celebrating Easter. For those who don’t know, Lent is a period of 40 days between Ash Wednesday (a.k.a. the day after Mardi Gras) and Easter. During this period, Catholics are supposed to be in a state of repentance and sacrifice in order to ready ourselves to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection on Easter.

So what’s the whole Lenten promise thing? That’s what Catholics are supposed to “give up” for the entire 40 day period, in an attempt to feel some degree of of the sacrifice Jesus made by dying on the cross.

Even if the religious doctrine behind Lent sounds irrelevant, I’ve found that the practices of Lent are applicable to all realms of life and beliefs. In particular, the thing Catholics give up during Lent is supposed to be hard to let go of. It should be nerve-wracking to think of going without whatever it is and a challenge to keep up for almost two months. Obviously, this thing shouldn’t be something you can’t live without, but it should certainly feel like you can’t. Think, when’s the last time you gave up something nonessential by your own choice? If not a fantastic exercise in willpower, Lent gives me an opportunity to examine the nonessentials in my pampered, first-world lifestyle.

Some people give up things that are just a nuisance to be without and constantly keep you on your toes remembering them. For example, I had one friend who gave up all things yellow for Lent or another who gave up using his right hand as his dominant hand. However, many of my friends and family (including myself) choose to give up something that is in excess in our lives, some unhealthy habit that we’ve been meaning to break. My mom gives up Diet Coke almost every year and my dad gives up his daily cinnamon roll before work. Some of my friends would give up desserts, meat, Snapchat, Instagram, soda, and any other unhealthy vices of modern life. Personally, I’ve alternated between giving up snacking (big mistake), eating after dinner (slightly smaller mistake), processed food, and this year, added sugars. 

For some reason, nothing motivates me more than the season of Lent. Even though I made it my New Year’s resolution to give up added sugar, that fell through about two days into rush week. However, Lent has the effect of making a promise that motivates me to stick it out for the full 40 days. I think part of its motivation has to do with proving to myself that I can accomplish this small feat. An even bigger part involves remaining in solidarity of my fellow Catholics around the world.  

In high school and grade school, I was constantly surrounded by others who were struggling to keep their own Lenten promises. You’ve heard that it’s easier to keep a commitment when you have a support group, right? Well, these fellow Catholics were my support group. The process of keeping a Lenten promise has shown me the importance of a supportive community whenever you undertake something challenging. This principle applies to any time someone tries to make a change; it is always easier if you have support behind you, especially in the form of others going through the same challenges you are. 

Lent also reminds me of my abundant privileges. How lucky am I to have the choice to give up sugar when millions of people around the world struggle to find enough food for a single day? I am reminded of everything I have that I don’t need, and I acknowledge the struggles other people face to simply survive each day. No matter what belief system a person does or doesn’t follow, I think it is important to reflect on our own blessings and practice gratitude for each and every one of them.

Acknowledging and improving our lack of gratitude is the universal meaning of Lent. As Catholics metaphorically prepare for Jesus, we examine our lives and try to live more mindfully of everyone around us. Over the years, Lent has taught me that it’s never a bad thing to build your community and that I can always find more things to be grateful for. For one thing, I’m grateful to have this Lenten season to reflect and consider the blessings around me while practicing gratitude for everything this first year of college has brought me.

COVER PHOTO: Pinterest