What did you give up for Lent this year? Sugar? Coffee? Cigarettes? Your favorite dessert? Or did you give up something like an extra hour of sleep in the morning so you could get out and exercise without using the excuse of “I just don’t have the time?”

Most Christians look at Lent as a season of sacrifice and self-denial. On the surface, that’s accurate, as it honors Jesus for His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. It lasts for 40 days to commemorate his 40 day fast in the desert.

The Positive Side of Give-Ups

However, while it’s a time to show respect for our Savior, it often has positive side effects. If you look at the list of the top 100 things that people give up for Lent, as compiled from Twitter by Christianity Today in 2013, you’ll see that many are connected to things that directly affect a person’s health and well-being. For example, things like chocolate and alcohol aren’t harmful in moderation, but many of us indulge in them to excess. I’m a social drinker myself, so that one’s not a problem for me, but I’m powerless when faced with a giant chocolate bar.

When you give up things that cause problems if you indulge in them too heavily, you improve your health during the Lenten season. If you can make it through for 40 days, why not try to hold out for a few more? Every extra calorie you keep out of your body helps you avoid extra pounds. Every cigarette that stays in the pack lets your lungs breathe a little easier. You get a lot from those give-ups, and Lent shows you that you have the power to withstand temptation and to build on that success if you choose.

So Many Ways to Gain

Not all the gains are physical. Sometimes they’re tied into to your family, friends, and the ways in which you relate to others. For example, swearing and social media were two more items on the top of the Lent give-up list. Swearing was once a social no-no, but more and more words that were once taboo are finding their way onto prime time television and into casual conversations. 

Swear words aren’t the only parts of our language that can often use a little cleaning up. The Third Commandment instructs us not to take the Lord’s name in vain, yet I’ll admit to tossing it around in ways that I’m sure He doesn’t approve of.

If you make a Lenten promise to stop swearing and take it seriously, you’ll honor God’s wishes and set a good example for everyone around you. That’s especially important if you’ve got little ears within hearing range, but it shows respect even when you’re talking to other adults.

Social media is a pervasive part of life, but it’s also a time sucker that ropes us into reading the latest quips on Facebook or trying to reach the next level on Candy Crush Saga when we could be using that time more productively. If you have up social media for Lent, you gained one of God’s most precious gifts: time. We don’t know how many years, days, and hours He grants us on this earth, so it’s critical to use each one of them wisely.

You’ll extend that gain if you stay away from social media after Easter or if you place a limit on how much time you spent on sites like Facebook and Pinterest. Social media often serves a purpose of letting us stay in touch with family and friends, but Lent is a great time to step away from it in preparation for learning to use it in moderation. Use the time you can to forge personal connections and spend more time with your family.

An Example of God’s Wisdom

Those are just a few examples of how giving things up during Lent can actually give you a lot. God’s wisdom is infinite, and sometimes there’s even more behind Christian traditions that we realize. Yes, when you get down to its roots, Lent is all about Jesus and how He gave up everything for us. But even as we honor Him, God gives us something valuable in return that we can use long past Easter and for the rest of the year.

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