40 Days and 40 Nights – Give Up or Give Back?

40 Days and 40 Nights – Give Up or Give Back?

Lent is a Christian tradition that stems from the 40 days that Jesus fasted prior to his crucifixion.  Beginning Ash Wednesday and concluding on Easter Sunday, observers of Lent are to celebrate and recognize the sacrifice which Jesus made for his people.  Growing up in an Italian Catholic home my family observed the Lenten season by not eating meat on Fridays and attending mass every Sunday.  Another tradition in the Catholic Church is to give up an item or habit that is often times abused or over consumed. For example, when I was younger I gave up chocolate for 40 days.  As time passed I continued giving up things like soda, cursing, alcohol and most recently eating out. 

This Lenten season it was my goal to give up spending money dining out…allotting me three outings a week.  Some might say I am cheating the system because I’m giving myself a “cushion” of three outings.  However, on a weekly bases I was buying a bagel and coffee every morning at a local muffin shop, getting a sandwich, soda and chips for lunch and then heading out every now and again for dinner.  So, I set my goal to be as realistic as possible by allowing myself this “cushion.”  One day I sat down and calculated what I was spending weekly on my little “dining adventures” and I averaged $100 a week, which means I was spending about $400 a month on food outside of the groceries that I bought for my house.  Oh, and these totals did not include nights out with friends on the weekends. 

People automatically assumed I was giving up dining out for health reasons, but I was actually more concerned about my wallet and bank account than my health.  As I thought about what I was giving up I realized how selfish what I was doing, sounded.  In fact it brought up a number of different questions:  1) Are my spending habits affecting anyone but me? No not really, except that now the muffin shop and delis are losing a small profit.  2) Is what I’m giving up really a sacrifice or is it something that should be practiced regardless of the Lenten season?  3) Is it fair that I am totally benefitting from this?  According to the Bible Jesus sacrifice himself for us.  My giving up spending money doesn’t directly affect anyone but myself.  I debated with a co-worker about these thoughts and she brought up the argument that sometimes it’s okay to do something for yourself and that sometimes we don’t focus enough on ourselves.  While I think that is a valid argument, I still feel like I am doing something wrong. 

Giving up chocolate as a child, practicing not cursing as a teenager or giving up alcohol as a college student is just fine when you’re that age.  However, as a grown adult who now has the opportunity and means to give back, I’ve decided that, I will no longer practice the Lenten season by giving up an abused or over consumed item or habit, but I will do something for someone else.  I will donate my time, my knowledge and my experiences with those who can benefit from them.  Throughout the year I will do my best to recognize my abused habits and fix them as I go, so when the next Lenten season rolls around I will be able to focus on someone other than myself.

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