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Meaningful Sacrifice

Guideposts’ editor-in-chief recalls a remark that changed how he thinks about giving something up for Lent.

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Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Mark 8:34

I’d long since stopped giving stuff up for Lent, or so I thought, until an acquaintance asked me what I would be denying myself this year. “Nothing,” I said. “I just use these few weeks to stay focused on the message of the New Testament.”

My friend, who has a way of gently taking me by the lapels and getting me to explain myself, shook his head, so I continued.

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“I got so bored with giving up sugar or a favorite TV show,” I tried to explain. “It just didn’t seem meaningful.”

“Isn’t it you who makes the sacrifice meaningful?” he asked. “Not the thing you give up?”

An image flickered in my memory, my father giving up chocolate for Lent, a big deal for Dad because he was a world-class chocoholic. And my mom, who would never tell anyone what she gave up but walked around on Good Friday with a pebble in her shoe to remind herself of her Savior’s suffering.

My friend continued, “When I give something up for Lent, no matter how trivial, it reminds me that Christ not only died for my sins, he suffered for them. Terribly. It wasn’t as if he died peacefully in his sleep. I can suffer a little bit too, in remembrance of that sacrifice. I can join him in his suffering.”

I felt a little flush of shame and remembered how hard it was to give up some of the little things I’d given up in the past, how daily self-denial kept me focused on the meaning of the cross.

“You know something,” I told my friend, “maybe you’re right.” And the first thing I needed to give up was my notion of what Lent was all about. Then I could figure out which one of the small sacrifices I could make this year would have the most meaning.

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