Ash Wednesday – Not Just for Catholics

I was confirmed Catholic circa 1998. And even though I stopped actively practicing Catholicism about 10 years ago (still actively practicing my faith, just not under Catholicism), for the last 14 years or so I have attempted to sacrifice something (usually food of the chocolate/sweets variety) beginning on Ash Wednesday and going through Easter.

And let me give a minor confession here: I have failed about … 40-50% of the time.

I remember in 10th grade I got a candy necklace from someone the day before or the morning of Ash Wednesday. Naturally, I had given up sugar for Lent. And naturally, It completely slipped my mind that I had done so. I ended up putting a blue candy piece in my mouth during first period. My neighbor (who teased me about my faith in a I-have-a-crush-on-you way) promptly reminded me, “Uh, didn’t you give up sugar for Lent?” I immediately dropped that candy piece out of my mouth. However, since this blue candy piece was attached to a necklace around my, you guessed it, neck, it rolled out of my mouth and down my chin. I looked like I’d gotten a chin peck from a Smurf.

I would actually say that most years I’ve made it the whole time without my vice. Every year I failed I’ve had a reason (read: excuse). Though I could blanket them all under 1 category: Marriage. It’s harder to give up something when the only other person in your household eats it all the time, and you two use it as an emotional bonding tool. (More on Friday Night Ice Cream in another post). One year Hubs was just about to deploy and, well, I couldn’t waste that precious bonding opportunity! One year I was in Japan, and as you’ll read in my upcoming “102 Days in Japan” series, I was basically obsessed with Japanese chocolate. Last year… I don’t remember. Which means I probably didn’t make it. 🙂

This year, I just could not figure it out! Chocolate is no longer a sacrifice – I crave shrimp and hot sauce more often these days, as I told you here. So, what? TV? No, I only watch about 4 hours a week anyway. Commit to writing everyday? A surefire way to make sure I don’t write – forcing me to do it. So what?

Right now I’m thinking – fruit fast every Monday. Use it as a way to rely on strength through God at the beginning of every week. (Because I love to eat, people).

So why am I participating in Lent if I don’t practice Catholicism? My reason is 2-fold: 1) I love the idea of fasting from something. Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice. Surely I can shift my cushy lifestyle for ~42 days. And 2) I like the challenge. I think anytime we commit ourselves to a challenge, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, we are making ourselves better. We are pushing ourselves past our perceived limits and saying, “Let’s see if I can do this.” If we have a relationship with God, we’re improving that. If we involve food, we’re trying to be healthier (unless you’re the Super Size Me guy). If we involve other people, we’re improving our relationships. Either way, we can’t go wrong. Plus the Lenten sacrifice requires discipline, a sorely missing trait from modern society.

So, see, Ash Wednesday is not just for Catholics. It’s also for used-to-be-Catholics who just piggyback and use this time to see if they can give up one of their vices.

You tell me:

Do you practice Lent? What do you give up? Do you have a go-to sacrifice, or do you try to mix it up?


  1. My wife and I have actually had several discussions about just this issue. We’re both practicing Catholics, though we have had very different upbringings with respect to the church. As a kid, deciding what to give up for Lent is very easy, though as you’ve found, sometimes very difficult to follow through on. On the surface, the point is sacrifice and maybe not so much of a focus on why. Maybe it was sweets, or tv, or talking on the phone. On Fridays we didn’t eat meat, instead it was grilled cheese, or fish sticks, or soup. For me it was something we did as a family, we all chose something and went through the process together, and there was accountability to stick with it and think about it. For my wife, it was something she did in spite of her family not doing it, or not understanding why she even wanted to.

    As I’ve grown up, and continued the process, I’ve come to a greater understanding of what Lent is and what it represents to give something up. Lent represents the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before he began his ministry. He did this not as a sacrifice, but as a way to completely remove himself from all distractions, to concentrate and prepare himself for his ministry and ultimately his death. At the end of the 40 days, when his human self was at his most vulnerable he was tempted, to break his fast, to test the Father’s commitment to him, and ultimately to give up on his ministry and take the easy way out.

    The Catholic tradition of giving up something for Lent represents that journey. A chance to examine your life and figure out what is the biggest distraction in your relationship with Christ and taking an active role to remove it from your life, and make a choice at Easter to remove it from your life entirely or bring in back in moderation. We are sure to be tempted throughout Lent, however that temptation is an opportunity to reject that distraction and reaffirm the choice to build your relationship with Christ.

    I think there is too much of a focus on sacrifice during Lent when the true focus should be mindfulness and faith.

    • Josh,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. It’s interesting to hear the different approaches you and your wife have taken to Lent.

      I think you are right; Lent should focus more on mindfulness and faith. It’s the discipline piece that helps us grow and change.

      Thanks again for your thoughtfulness. Cheers!

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