Lent: Giving Up Giving Up

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If your spiritual maturation is going anything like mine, one Lent you must have already come to the realization that giving up chocolate, coffee, or saturated fats, as noble as the discipline might be, does not exhaust the penitential spirit of the liturgical season.

Penance, after all, is first and foremost about conversion, which, in turn, is fundamentally about changes of heart, always in the direction of greater openness and malleability.  Merely “giving up” pleasurable things can be an oversimplification of this dynamic process.

A few years back, I decided to give nothing up, but instead spend time each day of Lent writing a letter to someone I love.  The “penance” greatly assisted the softening of my heart.

Collectively, dear readers, we surely could assemble a lengthy list of creative Lenten aids and additions that have moved us towards conversion. Experience has taught us that, at least some times, giving up is a short cut along the path of least resistance.

When we make the effort to “give up” giving up, we can be led to a more conscious, reflective, active and theologically salutary participation in the Easter procession.

Now, if your spiritual maturation is going anything like mine, you might be feeling the urge to take another significant step forward.

As I ponder our world–floundering as it is in the morass of ugly politics, disintegrating biomes, armed conflicts and wild disparities of wealth—a real temptation, too often indulged, is to shrug shoulders, sigh and say “Intractable!”

In other words, my common, perhaps default response, even if only unconscious, is: “This mess is way beyond my very limited housekeeping abilities.  I give up!”

Precisely here I’m beginning to feel the need to give up giving up.  In a very absolute and final sense. Give up giving up. That is, put my foot down decisively and stop walking away from the overwhelming needs and challenges of the world to which the umbilical cord of my existence is, to the day of my death, unseverably attached.

To give up giving up.  Picture that.  Imagine the ramifications. No more shushing your nagging conscience when you needlessly add carbon to the atmosphere, or trash to the landfill, or rejection to the homeless man on the corner. “Everyone else does it”, would no longer work.

When you truly give up giving up, other people’s indifference and resignation to perennial problems cease to hold water in your personal case. Truly to give up giving up is to stick your neck out in a very uncomfortable manner. With a neck that long, the danger of whiplash increases exponentially.

The urge is upon me this Lent to make this determined step.  But, quite frankly, this urge unnerves me.  The more I investigate myself, the more I recognize the extent to which I give up every day on so many things, events, people and places.

Indeed, I’m constantly binging on my own sense of powerlessness and futility in the face colossal challenge.  That is behaviour that comes from a heart crying out for genuine, deep conversion. A Lenten heart inured to its own vital hope and need for redemptive activity has only one option: to give up giving up radically and thoroughly.

Greg Kennedy, SJ is assigned to the spiritual exercises ministry at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ontario.

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13 Comments
  • Vicky Chen
    Posted at 03:08h, 07 March Reply

    Very creative suggestion, Greg. Refreshing.

    A few years ago, I had to deal with an authoritarian superior. He caused me so much anguish. ‘Coincidentally’ I heard the homily from a visiting priest telling us how he did not like Lent. “Making resolutions of giving up this and that is only for them to be broken later. Then we feel even more guilty.” he said. Like you he encouraged us to do something positive. Well I paused and prayed for that superior each time when I wanted to curse him which was often! I think the action tamed me. Now I am less easy to get upset over others. That superior also left for another post.

    Let us have a happy Lent give up giving up! 🙂

  • Peter Chouinard
    Posted at 06:57h, 07 March Reply

    Surprise, surprise! I was expecting one of your poems but this…well done Greg.
    Much to ponder for today and for Lent.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 08:59h, 07 March Reply

    Thank you Greg!

  • Sr. Regina
    Posted at 09:14h, 07 March Reply

    It is very enlightening and new but encouraging to do. To give up ,……When you truly give up giving up, other people’s indifference and resignation to perennial problems cease to hold water in your personal case.
    Thank you

  • Ann
    Posted at 09:45h, 07 March Reply

    Always liked the idea “of taking on something” for the Lenten journey. Seemed to be a positive approach..

  • Ada MacDonald
    Posted at 10:38h, 07 March Reply

    I find your post very inspiring and I resolve to do the same this lent,l including telephone calls.

  • Charles Pottie-Pâté, sj
    Posted at 11:11h, 07 March Reply

    Great article, Greg. change of heart and attitude much more difficult than “giving up” in both senses you wrote about. But conversion is more life giving and freeing. Have a blessed Lenten journey.

  • John O'Connor
    Posted at 11:29h, 07 March Reply

    A very challenging message.
    I also am looking for more reupholstered psalms

  • Carol von Zuben
    Posted at 16:02h, 07 March Reply

    Greg Kennedy , you are a precious gift to this world ! Thank you so vey much for this contribution to IgNation. “Giving up”, has taken on an entirely different meaning for me.

  • Catherine von Zuben
    Posted at 16:57h, 07 March Reply

    Thank you so much, Greg, for sharing your thoughts/prayer with us. I love this essay and the encouragement to strive towards a ‘change of heart’ with a positive reachable goal in mind. Thank you. Have a fruitful blessed Lent.

  • Catherine von Zuben
    Posted at 16:58h, 07 March Reply

    Thank you so much, Greg, for sharing your thoughts/prayer with us. I love this essay and the encouragement to strive towards a ‘change of heart’ with a positive reachable goal in mind. Thank you. Have a fruitful blessed Lent.

    Catherine NOT Carol von Zuben

  • Paul Valeriote
    Posted at 20:02h, 07 March Reply

    I gave away the book that taught me to give everything up…I gave up the spirit that taught me to give everything up…here I am…poor of spirit…finally living in faith…glorious poverty………..nothing left to give up………

  • Susan Tomenson
    Posted at 21:00h, 07 March Reply

    Thanks, Greg. I plan to give up giving up! I am trying to pay close attention to my words and actions each day which reflect who I really am within.

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