Up until this year, even though I always acknowledged the meaning behind Lent, attended church every Sunday and made what I thought were sacrifices, I was selfish and hardly altruistic during this time of year. Growing up, I didn’t mind that us Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Fridays. It just meant that my family was able to go out for a world-renowned Wisconsin Friday Fish Fry, which was often times the best part of my week.  I never felt I was being deprived of anything. As a result, I stopped looking at the real reason behind no-meat on Fridays and instead looked forward to fried cod, French fries, tartar sauce, coleslaw, bread and apple sauce.

As the years went on, I recognized the importance of giving up other things during the season. For a few consecutive years, I gave up Ketchup. This may sound completely ridiculous, but as I have explained to my roommates, this truly was a sacrifice and a struggle. I could give the little boy from the movie Big Daddy a run for his money on who loved the condiment more. But even then, I was never doing it for my Lord or to prepare for Easter. I was doing it to lose weight. I always joked with my mom that I loved Lent because I dropped about 5lbs. The sacrifices I was making were in reality not sacrifices at all. I used Lent merely as a means to an end, choosing not to look more closely at why I was giving up something in the first place.

This year, through my spiritual growth in the Episcopal Service Corps and Jubilee Consortium, I made a tremendous realization. I finally opened my eyes and was awakened to the fact that Lent is not about weight loss, trivial food sacrifices or Friday night Fish Fry. It is not about me at all. Lent is a time to prepare for and commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered, died, and rose again in order to save us. I feel foolish to think that for so long I used his selfless love and sacrifice in the wrong way.

This year, I am changing how I approach Lent altogether. I have not given anything up. Instead, I am taking on challenges and trying to bear my own cross. One of my goals for Lent is to be patient as Christ was patient. This transcends through all aspects of my life: at home, at work, on the bus, with my family, friends and even at the grocery store on Sunday afternoons.

The other day I was at the store, attempting to check out, and I noticed that my bus was arriving in 5 minutes. The woman helping me received a phone call during the middle of my transaction, which she took, because it was her daughter. She chatted for a few minutes about how much water her daughter needed to make a pasta (I think it was her daughter’s first time cooking) as I began to nervously check my GoMetro app, counting down the minutes until the bus would surely pass me up. Any other day I might have interrupted her conversation and said, “I’m really sorry but I’m going to miss my bus – could you finish checking me out?” But I didn’t. I could tell in her face that she was so thrilled to be offering her daughter advice and receive that phone call. I reassessed the situation and didn’t want to rush her. I had nowhere to be. Another bus would eventually come. I waited until she got off the phone, finished the transaction, and made it to the bus stop with a few moments to spare. Although this may seem like a trivial example, the smallest moments are often times the most important. They serve as a foundation for the bigger picture.

I am also attempting to meditate or dedicate at least 5 additional minutes of silence and prayer to God every day. I am accustomed to praying when I attend church or every night before I go to bed, but now I find myself holding conversations with God and offering him praise throughout the day. In less than a week, I already feel like our bond is growing and I have seen tremendous improvements in my daily life. I feel happier and more at peace.

Finally, I am offering all of my suffering and frustrations to God during this time. I am letting go and letting him take the wheel. There have been many curveballs thrown at me this year in terms of health, family, etc., and in the past I was always angry with God for making me face adversity and difficult times. In my daily life, I find myself frustrated with Los Angeles (on public transportation, in my job, at the store, etc). Through the help of my peers and my own understanding, I now realize that I must suffer as Jesus suffered. The suffering is what makes us great. It is what makes the good times, good. There is nothing I cannot handle with God by my side. Even when Jesus thought his cross was too heavy to carry, dropping it as he walked, he picked himself up and kept moving forward. In other words – I am trying to thank God every day for everything, knowing that he will continue to help me on my path.