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Lenten Traditions: Remembering a Family’s Sacrifices

For dad, it was giving up. For mom, it was taking on. A son, years later, considers how best to prepare for the miracle of Easter.

The editor of Guideposts considers Lenten traditions.
Credit: Katye Martens Brier
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What is Lent? For me, Lent wafts through my mind on the remembered scent of warm candle wax and incense, my young knees aching as we said the Stations of the Cross, all 14 of them, me resisting the temptation to briefly sink back on my heels and risking an annoyed look from Father Walling and a sharp nudge from my fellow server. What Lenten lessons or Lenten traditions did I learn as a boy, serving on the altar at St. Owen’s church in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan?

Lent Is About Giving Up

Of course, first and foremost I learned that Lent is about sacrifice, the greatest sacrifice of all at Golgotha. We honor that divine sacrifice by making small sacrifices ourselves in the 40 days leading up to Easter.

My dad was a case in point. He was a sugar addict and in particular a chocoholic. For his Lenten tradition, he would lay off the sweets. It was a real struggle for him and like most addicts the more he thought about his self-imposed deprivation the more he obsessed over it. I would try to make it easier for him by hiding my own sweets in my room, but one year we discovered that he had a secret chocolate stash. He tried to deny it, but we totally busted him. He ended up bringing his lapse to confession. Now that was a sacrifice. I knew how hard it was for him to admit defeat.

READ MORE: What to Give Up for Lent: 15 Meaningful Suggestions

Lent Is About Taking On

My mother was a different story. She didn’t have many obvious vices and the ones she did have were not necessarily subject to suppression, like speaking her mind when she probably shouldn’t. She was not self-aware in that respect. While my father’s notion of sacrifice was subtractive—he would take something away from himself—my mother’s was additive. She would do more of something. Like praying on her knees twice a day rather than once. Or increasing her volunteer work during Lent or committing more time to the troop of Girl Scouts with Down syndrome she helped lead. She would use the occasion of Lent to do more even if it exhausted her. She gave up nothing. That was her concept of sacrifice and her Lenten traditions.

Except on Good Friday when she would slip a few sharp pebbles in her shoe to remind her of Christ’s suffering. That, I’ve always thought, was more about humility than suffering, for the meaning of Lent after all is about humbling ourselves to receive the miracle of Easter.

READ MORE: 5 Things to Do (Not Give Up) for Lent

Lent Is About Helping Others

I have not gotten to the point where I put pebbles in my shoe, and Lord knows I could never quit chocolate. So, following my mother’s example, what can I increase? What good thing can I do more of during Lent, especially if it is for the benefit of others? I’m going to think about that and get back to you with a few examples in my next blog. Maybe you can use them too or share some of your own Lenten traditions. I’d love to know.


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