Lenten Sacrifices

Sacrifice has developed a negative connotation in our culture. Here’s why it’s important.

By Sabra Ciancanelli, Tivoli, New York


My son Henry awoke terrified from a nightmare. Tears streamed down his face as he begged me to join him in the top bunk.

I tried to convince him to come to my bed, but he shook his head and pointed to the dozen stuffed animals around him. Not wanting to wake up his brother in the bottom bunk and hoping Henry might fall fast asleep, I climbed up the ladder and lay beside him.

“I love you, Mommy,” he said.

It must have been a little after three in the morning. Somewhere between contorting my legs around a large stuffed dinosaur and praying that Henry would fall asleep, I began to think about self-denial. Initially I was reflecting on the sleep I was giving up but then my thoughts wandered to Lenten sacrifices.

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“What are you giving up for Lent?” people ask this time of year. The responses usually range from giving up coffee or chocolate to avoiding gossip or foregoing television or Facebook. Some don't observe Lent through sacrifice, but take up good deeds instead.

Historically, believers observed Lent by fasting. By denying themselves food, the physical hunger helped them share in Jesus’ suffering. Jesus had invited us to do so when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Recently, Lenten sacrifices have become strategies for self-improvement. Giving up chocolate or ice cream to lose weight, for example.

I confess that there have been times my sacrifices for Lent were second-chances at my New Year’s resolutions—no red meat, no chocolate, more exercise, less coffee—disciplines to help me reach personal goals. Even then, I didn’t always take my promises too seriously. Sometimes I forgot and indulged or made excuses.

As my son fell asleep, I studied his face in the warm glow of the nightlight. My first true experience of sacrifice has come from motherhood. Before my oldest took his first breath, I gave up coffee, sushi, hot baths—all pleasures I relished. Later, through months of colic, I sacrificed sleep. Still, almost a decade later, there are late nights like this one when I’m dead tired.

And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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The reason I willingly give up my pleasures for my sons is simple: It’s love, of course. And the result of my sacrifices is that my love deepens.

What if I were to give that same commitment and love to God? To willingly and lovingly sacrifice some comforts and pleasures and focus on Him and the infinite sacrifice He made on my behalf?

Sometimes I forget my relationship with God is like other relationships in my life. The more love and attention I give Him, the stronger our bond becomes. Giving up something for Lent isn’t about senseless sacrifices. It’s a meaningful exercise to bring me closer to God.

Looking for a way to observe Lent and deepen your relationship with God? Join OurPrayer’s 40 Days of Prayer and receive daily direction and encouragement for your spiritual journey.

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Your Comments (3)

Dear Kate,
Our pastor says, "You don't give in order to get." But, somehow, in God's economy, that's what happens. "When you give, you receive." When you give...from your heart, just because...THEN you notice that you got back more than you gave. But, you don't do it SO THAT you get back.(That wouldn't be sacrifice. That would be manipulation.) Sabra gave to her son...without thought of what she would receive back from him...but then noticed the blessings returned. That's when you understand that it came from God's hands, and give thanks and honor to Him.

That article makes clear that, with your son, you're getting back far more than you gave up. How, then, is it a "sacrifice"?

Thank you for this very meaningful article! Over the past several years I have also noticed that "sacrifice" as a word or deed has been lost (almost banned) from our vocabulary. Using motherhood as an example of loving sacrifice is perfect. Any time we put our desires behind us to love or care for another, whether or not we are loved or cared for in return is sacrifice. Since we, as Christians, have the ultimate example of His sacrifice before us, it shouldn't be such a foreign thought or idea. Yet, in our society, it is!
"That was easy!" (Staples motto) is what we all strive for in this crazy world too full of activity and so little time.
Thanks for reminding us that it may NOT be easy, but it is SO WELL WORTH IT!