Jeneé Osterheldt

Lent is not just about giving up chocolate

Pope Francis  led Ash Wednesday mass in Rome.
Pope Francis led Ash Wednesday mass in Rome. The Associated Press

Sometimes Lent sounds like a diet.

Friends and co-workers talk about giving up sweets, salt and soda. In the 120,000 or so tweets about Lent so far, everyone seems to be giving up chocolate and social media.

Isn’t there a better way to serve Lent’s purpose? This stretch from Ash Wednesday to Easter was created back in A.D. 325 to honor the 40 days when Jesus fasted in the desert and endured the devil’s temptations. How does giving up a caramel flan latte pay respect to that?

In his annual Lenten message, Pope Francis said sacrifices should benefit others. Make your heart like the Lord, he said. Overcome indifference to others. Have strong and giving hearts.

So if you’re giving up that chocolate, maybe take the money you’re saving and donate it to the homeless, says the Rev. Bob Stone of Nativity of Mary, a Catholic church in Independence.

“Some people give things up just to give them up,” he says. “Pope Francis is doing a great job of reminding us to make a difference and serve others.”

On social media, people are encouraging us to try to ditch the gossip, to pray more and to give back. Dawn Taylor of Prairie Village is one of many who posted a list, “40 Ways to Win Lent,” on Facebook. One of her favorites: “Accept small hardships. Not grudgingly. Joyfully.”

“It’s easy to have a pity party about everything from the miserable weather to car trouble and just complain about it,” says Dawn, co-founder of Red Dirt Shop, an accessories company that raises money to provide clean water in impoverished areas.

“That negative energy seeps in and can color your interactions with folks … not very spiritual, in my opinion. There are little lessons in little hardships, but I think the bigger lesson is that we can draw on strength in both good times and bad.”

Jennifer Doering of Olathe says we have to take our devotion beyond 40 days. And it’s not all about broadcasting it.

“I have come to the mindset that Jesus doesn’t care about 40 days; he cares about your heart for a lifetime,” she says. “Give something up, do something out of your comfort zone, but let’s not advertise what it is. Goodness, sometimes have some humility.”

So maybe during Lent, you practice humility to draw closer to faith. Or you accept your individual struggles with grace so you can be a stronger piece of your community. Perhaps you ditch social media so you aren’t distracted from nurturing meaningful relationships. (But I promise it means a lot when I tweet to you about Olivia Pope.)

I’m not a faithful Lent participant. Some years I do, others I don’t. But year-round, I do believe it’s important to be prayerful, to have a giving heart. This season, I’m giving up overcommitment. I spread myself so thin I often can’t be where I need to be. If I scale back, I will be able to keep my promises.

But is it OK to switch up your Lenten commitments now that Lent has started?

Father Bob says it’s up to you.

“It is your decision, your self-journey, and you definitely can change it if it makes more sense.”

It’s your life. You can Lent how you like. But do it with love.

To reach Jeneé Osterheldt, call 816-234-4380 or email “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. On Twitter @jeneeinkc.