When giving up is a good thing

Until a few years ago, I had not ever participated in the practice of giving up something for Lent. I heard my friends talk about what they were eliminating during the 40 days leading up to Easter, but I couldn’t get up the motivation to do something that would purposely make my life more difficult. I loved the spiritual reasoning behind it, but I didn’t feel it was necessary. And, come on. Isn’t life challenging enough the way it is?

During the past year, however, the act of giving something up has become a recurring theme. Whether it’s been for spiritual reasons, health reasons or just to make my life better, this practice of self denial has been an awakening for me. In fact, part of my journey in 2017 is to give up one thing for a month, each month of the year.

As I enter the third month of 2017, this is my third time giving up something this year that I enjoy. Strangely, as a new month approaches, I’ve grown to look forward to getting rid of the excess in my life. Instead of feeling dread and fear of the pain that will inevitably come with self denial, I’ve started feeling a sense of excitement to crack down on a new area of my life that has gotten out of control.

In fact, in several cases, I’ve found my life to be so much more pleasant without the habit or practice that I once loved, that I’m not anxious to go back to my old ways.

  • For example, last year, I gave up watching TV for Lent. I have loved learning new things, having time to practice my hobbies and being free from the distraction of television shows. More than a year later, I haven’t reintroduced TV into my life.
  • Last June, I was forced to give up gluten when I found out I had Celiac Disease. Having something taken from you is quite different mentally and emotionally than giving something up. Obviously, I haven’t even considered going back to gluten because of the devastating effect it has on my health. However, I’ve taken it two steps farther. In January, I removed sugar, grains, soy, dairy, legumes and artificial ingredients from my diet. Just when I thought there was no way I could add to that list, it became clear to me in February that I also needed to give up all inflammatory foods, including eggs, nuts, seeds, coffee, cocoa powder and nightshades. As I’ve been carefully monitoring the improvement in my health with this radical change to my diet, I don’t have plans to start eating those foods again anytime soon.
  • I also gave up social media in February. The best word I can think of to describe my life without it is “lighter.” I’m not as anxious. It freed me from carrying the weight of so many issues that are posted on social media. (I did cheat once, but other than that, this post will be my reintroduction, I suppose!)

What I’ve found to be so interesting about this practice of giving up is that it seems to be a discipline that is becoming easier for me to practice. It’s almost like I’ve been exercising my self control muscle, and it is growing stronger, making it less painful for me to use in new areas of my life.

This month’s elimination will be different. Giving something up for Lent isn’t just an act of self control. It is something we do out of spiritual conviction. This self denial is a way to help me focus on the sacrifice Christ made for each one of us on the cross. It’s tempting to give up the easiest thing. To chose the thing that will cause the least inconvenience, disruption or pain. But denying yourself something difficult can serve as such a great reminder of what this season is about — that He made the ultimate sacrifice for mankind.

Whether you want to give something up for Lent, for other spiritual reasons, to improve your health or even just as a challenge, here are a few things I’ve learned this past year about giving up:

  1. I’ve found it helpful to learn that some people are abstainers and others are moderators. I wrote about that here. It’s easier for abstainers to go cold turkey, while moderators often prefer an approach that involves “tapering off” or “setting boundaries.”
  2. Taking a before shot can be a powerful motivator. This could be a literal photo or it could take another form, such as a written statement of what life is like and how you want it to change. This act of marking your starting point is like a commitment you are making to yourself that things are going to change. With every “before” shot, comes an “after.” You are committing that things will look different in the “after”. I wrote more about that here.
  3. Change your perspective. Instead of seeing your denial as something negative, reframe it as something good you are doing for yourself. Click here to read about how I’ve been reframing my food choices as a gift I’m giving myself.
  4. I’m a believer that giving something up for Lent should be a personal decision that comes from a spiritual conviction. But for your everyday acts of giving up, it’s always nice to have a support system. Giving something up with a friend or at least sharing your goal with someone can turn it into an exciting journey!

What about you? Did you decide to give something up for Lent? Is this a practice that you think can make a positive impact on your life? 

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