What is Lent and do I have to give something up?

Let's start with some definitions for those unfamiliar with this time of year.

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Lent - 40 day preparation period before Easter.  It's the time in the Bible when Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights and was tempted by the devil.  Jesus proved his ongoing devotion to God by resisting the temptations.  Of course, we know that Jesus was without sin, so many people believe that he endured this time as an example for us in how to handle temptation.

Shrove Tuesday - The day before Ash Wednesday.  It's also called Fat Tuesday because it's a day of feasting and celebration before observing Lent.

Ash Wednesday - The first day of lent.  Depending on your church, you may attend a service and receive ashes on your forehead.

Depending on which church you attend and their traditions, there may be services on these days that you'll want to attend.

Do you need to give something up?

Some do, some don't.  Catholics tend to encourage fasting, which can be done by giving up a type of food, habit, or item.  You don't have to be catholic to give up something, but it's important to understand why you're fasting.  You may be doing it as a way to prove your devotion to God, or perhaps you've decided to eat soup for dinner once a week instead of eating at a restaurant electing to give the money you would have spent to charity.  Fasting may help rid distraction from your relationship with God.  For example, if you're tied to your computer, you could give up time online and instead spend that time in prayer.

Lent is about fasting, prayer and service.  Fasting should make you a bit uncomfortable as a way to remind yourself that you need God.  Giving up chocolate so you can lose ten pounds is not what Lent is about.  However, if you're addicted to food, you can give up chocolate and when that gnawing feeling overtakes your senses and you reach for chocolate for comfort, you could instead turn toward prayer.  You can fill the wholes in your life with God rather than something earthly.  That's more the idea of lent.  Then, with your heart overflowing with the Lord, you can help others. 

So what are you planning for Lent this year?