“What Are You Giving Up?”

I forget about “giving up” something for Lent every year. (“Every year,” she says, in the two years she’s been here.) Maybe because the date of Ash Wednesday changes, so it’s a last-minute surprise. More likely, giving something up seems the easy way out. I can swear off common vices like chocolate or coffee, and it doesn’t change anything (I don’t even like coffee). I could not drink tea for 40 days, but that wouldn’t reveal much about Jesus’s sacrifice.

Last year I “added” rather than subtracted, which is a step in the right direction. While it was good and productive, I’m not sure “productive” is what we’re going for, either. So maybe this year, rather than cramming in extra Masses or studies or a mountain of books, I’ll do… nothing. But I’m not giving up on “giving up.”

A common theme for my previous Lenten sacrifices was allowing time for meditation. Attend Mass; complete a prayer study; read books. These are good, and things I should be doing anyway. But I’ve come to realize that the resulting peace was not because of the specific thing, but that I did something. I set aside a hectic life, and prayed. Maybe the answer isn’t to give everything up, or to have a daily spiritual planner. Maybe it’s simply being still. That could be something active like journaling or reading, or quiet like wrapping myself in a prayer shawl. It’s the same theme I always have to learn—listen. Maybe God doesn’t want me to read that Tuesday night. Maybe He’s trying to speak as I’m distractedly plowing through a study. I just have to shut up and listen.

I recently saw WALL-E for the first time. I’ll admit, I was distracted at first. The first twenty minutes is this junky little robot cleaning up a mess of planet Earth, and I was bored. There’s no hint of real lifeforms. It’s like humanity gave up and went elsewhere, which is exactly what happened—when you finally see a human, they’re on a space cruise. “Relaxation” is a lifestyle, and they’ve forgotten about Earth and responsibilities.

It’s a charming tale of robots in love, but I was thinking of the humans. It’s not too far off from reality. We’re attached to our screens, inundated with entertainment. We’re busy, filling our days with so much stuff that we don’t see each other, even though we’re constantly connected. We need to detach. Turn off the screen and look up at the stars. For a while, I was shutting down the phone by nine p.m. At first, I didn’t know what to do with myself. There was nothing telling me what to do, think, or pay attention to. But over time, I started to look forward to the gap in my schedule. The while noise of a constant multitasker was starting to quiet down. And in that quiet, God was there. He hadn’t gone away, but I’d been too busy to notice Him.

That peace is what I strive for during Lent. Not to cut corners by giving up social media, or scheduling reading time, or making a checklist of prayer services to attend. I crave that quiet. It doesn’t have to always be at the same time. I’ll shut off the phone at nine o’clock again, but remain conscious of what He’s saying during the day, too. A parish near the office says the rosary during lunch time, which I can attend any given day. I may wake up early and read the Gospels. It could be something as simple as taking a walk around the block during the day. I don’t need to schedule God time, because it should all be God time. I can make all the Lenten plans in the world, but in the end, He’s in control. I just have to listen.