uuworld.org: liberal religion and life

waiting girl (©Red Barn Studio/iStockphoto)

The value of giving up

By Michelle Richards

Printer friendly version


When I was growing up in a Catholic family, the Lenten season usually meant eating breaded fish sticks for dinner on Friday nights and more frequent church attendance as the countdown to Easter began. It also meant 40-plus days of giving up something meaningful to me, and although this could be quite challenging at times, I believe it taught me a lot about self-discipline, restraint, and overcoming temptation.

The word “Lent” itself comes from an Old English word for spring that means “lengthening,” and has been used to designate the “long time” it may take for the arrival of Easter—which for Christians heralds the resurrection of Jesus—but also has significance for non-Christians who eagerly wait for the Earth to come alive with the arrival of Spring. Unlike Easter, Lent is not typically observed by Unitarian Universalist families, but it could have sacred relevance to us in our faith tradition, too.

Some families regularly observe the Advent season in a reverent way during the winter holidays, and so this year during Lent (which began with Ash Wednesday on March 9), I will be teaching my children the valuable lesson of giving up—or doing without something—in order to appreciate what we so often take for granted in life.

There was some initial resistance from my eight-year-old son, of course, and I had to help him come up with something reasonable for him to do without for the coming weeks (giving up school, for instance, was out of the question). My teenage daughter was initially excited about the idea and full of enthusiasm, fully on board with the idea. However, as the weeks progress, I imagine her positive energy may very dwindle a bit as the challenge of the experience sets in. This is only to be expected. After all, if it’s too easy, then it wasn’t truly a lesson in setting limits and overcoming temptation.

If your family is already vegetarian or vegan, then the meatless Fridays will not have much value in your home. However, all families can gain a real sense of meaning by doing without to appreciate the greater good, particularly if a simple meal is connected with any possible monetary “savings” which can be given to a food bank or used to purchase food for a local food pantry. Families could also explore possible meal programs in the local area and make a meal to donate and prepare each week during the Lenten season. Even young children can assist with cooking a big pot of soup, chili, or Sloppy Joes and help with tossing of a large salad.

What are some of the ways that you teach self-discipline and restraint in your family? Do you feel our faith tradition helps you with this process or gives voice to these values in your parenting? Are there ways you can incorporate a time of doing without or giving to others into your family’s life?

Photograph above ©Red Barn Studio/iStockphoto

more spirit
more ideas
more life