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I first started observing Lent in 2003, several months after I was baptized in American University’s pool.

Though I am not Catholic, I like the Lenten tradition and the idea of giving up something and relying on God for strength. I’ve evolved in my understanding of the tradition — I now see it as focused faith, of trying to live a more intentional life and “giving up” those things that stand in the way.

This year, Lent falls on March 9 and I’m not sure what I will give up, or gain. But I’d like to share with you my Lenten journeys, which I think can be helpful to anyone.

2003: Soda — This was my first Lent and I wasn’t sure how it was supposed to work. At the time, I thought that it meant giving up something you loved, like chocolate. I also considered it a test of faith.  I used to be addicted to Diet Coke — I even would sneak in a can to church and hide it under the pew. Thus, I gave up soda for Lent and celebrated my “victory” on Easter with an iced cold glass of liquid brown goodness! I may have missed the point, but it was the thought that counts, right? (In October 2009, I gave up Diet Coke for good and replaced it with coffee.)

2004: Howard Stern — Ok. How to explain this one? I grew up in New Jersey listening to New York radio. In 2004, I was living in Chicago and Howard Stern was the sound of home. He made me laugh and cringe. I’d put him on the radio each morning as I drove to the Skokie courthouse for my journalism graduate school assignments. For Lent, I gave up listening to Stern’s show. This act set me on a path to be more mindful about the media I consume.

2005: The Craigslist missed connections — Oh to be single and living in Washington, D.C.! The “missed connections” section of Craigslist is where people post missives about a stranger they saw and liked but were too shy to request a phone number. I found the concept to be so romantic and I would scour the postings daily for any mention of a woman who fit my description. I was searching for my hidden suitor.  For all of Lent, I had to force myself to not look, which was an act of will strengthened by faith. I mean what if my future husband saw me around 8 am at Metro Center, wearing a bright yellow coat with a red purse and knew right then that I was *the one* and I missed it and thus would miss out on finding my True Love?? See? You gotta have faith.

2006: Alcohol — This year marked my first Lent that followed a season of Mardis Gras, as I was living on the U.S. Gulf Coast. It was a grand time of non-stop balls and parades and costumes and parties. They may live in the Bible Belt, but Gulf Coast Southerners know how to have a good time — I ended up drinking and dancing nearly every night for a month. I gave up alcohol for Lent.

2007: Procrastination — A perfect one for all of us, no? Giving up procrastination meant that I must open mail as soon as it came, could not blow my newspaper deadlines and could not hit snooze on my alarm clock. I encourage you to try it, it will help you to live a more intentional life. I still struggle with this one.

2008: Possessions — One item each day of Lent — I blogged about this, here. It set me upon a life path of choosing to own fewer things.

2009: Cheese — Every day, I eat two cheese quesadillas, which I cook in the microwave. This would annoy my colleagues, as they complained that the cheese was stinky. (Trader Joe’s quattro fromaggio = heaven.) Also, I had gotten to a point in my life where I could not enjoy food unless it had cheese in it. I gave up cheese for lent. Asian food became my friend.

2010: Worrying, ruminating and dwelling –The Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, combined with a new career, the closure of my newspaper and my falling home value, had turned me into a ball of worry. Worrying is not an act of faith, and it accomplishes nothing. Whenever I found my mind going down some unproductive path, I would think, “STOP!” and force myself to pray about the problem and put it in God’s hands if it was out of my control. Here’s the best advice I have ever read about worrying.

2011: I’m taking suggestions. Maybe blogging? Gossip? My Google Reader RSS feed?

Update:

In 2011, I gave up “not reading the Bible.” It was wonderful to have a Lenten journey of action, rather than inaction. I had to crack open the Bible, or read a passage online, every day. On days where I missed or forgot, I tried to forgive myself and read a little bit more the next day.

In 2012, I gave up Facebook (using Chrome Nanny to enforce it) and swearing.