Somehow, after the Christmas and Epiphany seasons, the glut of my family’s January birthday celebrations, the Super Bowl party, and a Mardi Gras indulgence, the sparsity of Lent is actually welcomed.

Even in times when I have not been a regular churchgoer, I’ve observed Lent. There is something about denying yourself something you love that challenges you to think beyond immediate gratification, or habit, or routine. You can begin to see what drives your need for caffeine. Not enough sleep? Addiction? The comfort of chatting around the coffeepot?

I’ve found that many times, the thing I give up no longer holds power over me after Lent has passed. The year I gave up sugar I discovered that many things were actually too sweet for my taste. Some challenges are more difficult. Try giving up white flour. That is bread, pasta, pizza, sandwiches, bagels— you get the idea.

One thing that I find surprising is how many people wear their sacrifice as a badge of honor. “Oh, no,” they bemoan, “I gave that up for Lent.” Try giving something up, and keeping it to yourself. Your own personal suffering in silence. Now that is a challenge, especially in this day of social media.

I think the trick to self sacrifice is in finding something that in its absence leads you to learn something about yourself (in addition to understanding the sacrifice Jesus made). What is it that keeps you from being whole? What is it you use to compensate for all the things you’d like to change?

That’s a lot to think about.