Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Lent/Chocolate Connection

Lent is coming, and now it's soon. It will be here in just one week! This forces me to ask a question. Why is it so popular to give up chocolate for Lent? I have actually heard people sort of look down on this as a Lenten offering because it seemed pointless. What's spiritual about chocolate? How does this help a person grow closer to God?

I thought that the questions seemed valid, but I knew there had to be some kind of an answer. I have given up chocolate for Lent in the past, and I can tell you as a chocoholic that there is something about it that can draw a person closer to God. I also figure that one of the reasons that it can be a popular one is that other people have found it to help as well. So what is it about giving up chocolate that can bring a person closer to God?

I think it's the conscious reminder in day to day life that there is something more in life than what is right before us. Turning down that brownie right in front of you keeps you mindful that there is something more important than that brownie. It is a little way of saying that I want to grow closer to God right now even more than I want to eat that brownie. It's not that the brownie is bad, it's just that the discipline of turning away from that builds our spiritual muscles and helps build us up on our spiritual journey.

I think that it's the discipline of Lent that I love so much. I also love that it tends to cut down the noise in our lives. A lot of people either cut back on TV or internet or find extra time to pray. I think those things also help us refocus and get our eyes back on God. I don't know exactly how, but the whole season of cutting back on the excesses prepares me for Good Friday. Somehow the austerity of it allows me to participate in some small way with Christ rather than simply hearing about it. Maybe that's overstating it, but I don't know quite how to describe it, other than to say that I think Lent is a wonderful practice that I would highly recommend to anyone that wants to grow closer to God.

There are a few things that I have found that work for me to help me to get the most out of my Lent:

1) Pray about what God might be leading you to give up. Don't be afraid to give up something that might make you redefine the word "need" in your life. For example, some people "need" soda to get them through the day. They might actually go through withdrawal without it. Giving up a so-called need requires you to lean on God to get through it. Then again, I've seen people go a little crazy overboard with what they want to give up as well. Finding the right balance is definitely a matter of prayer.

2) If you're going to give something up, it's often good to focus on one or two things. Rather giving up TV, internet, chocolate, and soda, maybe just pick one thing. Otherwise, it can become overwhelming.

3) While you give something up, find something to replace it with. For example, if you give up a certain TV show, replace part of that time with some God time, like reading the Bible, journaling, Adoration or finding an extra Mass to go to. If you give up Starbucks, use the money that you save to give to a charity.

4) If you're Catholic (and you're welcome even if you're not) I highly recommend trying to find at least one extra time per week that you can get to Mass. I know that's not always possible, but if you can do it, do it. My parish always offers extra evening Masses during Lent, and as far as I'm concerned that is absolutely the best part of Lent. I went two years in grad school with Mass on Sunday and very little in between to sustain my faith. One Lent I did this and suddenly I found God again when I didn't even know I'd been missing Him.

5) Sundays. They really don't count as part of Lent, because Sunday is the day that we remember that Christ was raised from the dead. That trumps Lent. Don't be afraid to celebrate Sundays, but don't use them as the day to glut yourself on whatever you gave up. Some Lents, I still didn't let up on Sunday. That went against the spirit of what Sunday is. Other years, I've pigged out on Sunday. Kind of ruined Lent for me, because that goes against what the spirit of Lent is. One thing I did one year is that I would always eat a doughnut on Sunday. Since I gave up doughnuts for Lent, I would get myself a chocolate milk on Sunday instead. Still something to make Sunday a celebration, but not going out and getting three doughnuts to make up for the ones I didn't get throughout the week.

6) Whatever you decide to give up for Lent, be sure that you are firm about it. If you give up cake, except when it's someone's birthday or on a special occasion, then what's the point of giving up cake? If it doesn't hurt a little, it won't help. On the other hand, don't let your firmness get in the way of charity. Sometimes patients will bring in special treats for a thank you. I'm not going to throw their effort in their faces by saying that I won't accept it because I gave it up for Lent.

7) The last thing that I would say is that it is good to not make a big deal of whatever you give up for Lent. The fewer people that know about it the better. Sometimes it is necessary; for example, if you give up internet and you are a blogger that I read, please let me know so I don't worry that you have perhaps fallen and broken all your fingers and you can't type.

Obviously, not all of these will apply to everyone, it's just some of the things that I have found through trial and error that seem to make a difference for me.


  1. Cool post! I know I have struggled over the past few years. one year I remember getting to the middle of Lent and THEN realizing it was lent! I had missed half of it! I couldn't believe that had happened...but it had. I think that was the year I realized I was getting too busy...and we cut some things from our schedule...if I can't even keep up with something like Lent...there's a problem, IMO.

    Thanks for this!

  2. Good tips! I haven't really given up chocolate for Lent recently because I'm not supposed to eat it anyway, haha! But I am thinking about cutting out tv, except for LOST. That will be hard for me, as I usually have the tv on in the background when i am putzing around during the day. :)

  3. Great post! I've been praying about what to give up and felt more like I needed to add more God to my days. I really like the suggestion of adding another Mass to my week or cutting out a TV show and using the time to read scripture/pray. AND, this year it will be easier because my birthday is AFTER Lent. Last year, it was on Good Friday, not exactly a fun day of celebration; but it sure does make Easter Sunday fun :).

  4. I agree with you! I love Lent, mostly because it is a quiet time to grow closer to God. Your suggestions are very thoughtful. I miss frequently going to Mass, and offering my day to Jesus. I also went two years in grad school with Mass on Sunday and very little in between to sustain my faith.

    I also agree with Michelle, thanks for this! It's a great reminder right before Lent!

  5. This really is such a great overview. I do not typically give up chocolate because it is not a big deal for me. But last year I gave up chocolate chip cookies. That sounds pathetic, right? Well, what is even more pathetic is that right before Lent I was eating chocolate chip cookies every single day. I would make a batch of dough and keep it in the fridge and each day I would bake a little to have a hot cookie (or two or three).

    So my trick is to look to see what I am going a little crazy with and then give that up. I have only had chocolate chip cookies once in the past three or so months, so that won't be on the list this year. But I have been wasting a fair bit of time on Hulu, so I think that needs to go.

  6. These are really good tips! I also love Lent, because it seems so easy to give things up that I couldn't possibly do any other time on my own. Making a promise to God is so much more powerful than making a promise to myself!

    The only tip I have is to also consider adding something to your daily routine, in lieu of giving something up. For example, one year my friend had to do something nice for someone else every day and one year I made myself eat a vegetable every day - both were tougher than they sound! One year I made sure to read Scripture every day, and that was good, too. I know those aren't so much suffering, but I still felt they were valuable exercises.

    I'm so excited about my first Lent as a Catholic! I've celebrated it for years, but I feel like there are so many more opportunities for it and meaning to it now!

  7. Michelle- That is busy!

    Sarah- Yeah, I won't be giving up LOST either. My rationale is that it's part social experience for me since my friends and I always have to discuss it after each week. Is that lame?:)

    Rebecca- My birthday's in July. As I was writing that about the cake, I was thinking that I don't know what I would do if my birthday was smack in the middle of Lent every year. I'm glad it's not Good Friday on your birthday this year!

    Katie- I like that you mention that Lent is a quiet time. I was trying to figure out why it seems quiet to me, but I that's exactly how I think of it, too.

    Rae- I've been thinking about hulu, too, but I have to admit that I've been very thankful for it throughout this crazy long winter!

    Elizabeth- Were you going to Mass much last year? Because that's my favorite part of Lent and then celebrating Easter is the changes in the liturgy. I also love Lent because it is the build up for Holy Saturday Mass. That is absolutely the best Mass of the year, IMO.

  8. I am late in reading this post (and this blog in general,which is great, BTW) but I almost always give up chocolate for Lent for exactly the reason you say. It isn't the chocolate that is evil, but it is the mindless consumption of junk food that can lead us away from God. When I need comfort, I can turn to prayer instead of to a quick candy. It just is a yearly reminder of the power and comfort of prayer.

    I have been giving up almost all of my social networking (facebook and another site) time, chocolate, and praying morning and night with the Divine Office (I can't make it to daily mass because of my work schedule and school bus times). There are a few "giving" challenges I am taking on as well: at least one meal per week for my church food program, $10 more dollars per week to my church, and at least one distinct act of kindness toward each of my family members (hubby, 2 kids).

    So far, with this thoughtful planning, I feel like you do. This has been a great Lent, full of lessons and practices I would like to stick around!