Husband & Wife Articles



With Ash Wednesday coming, it's time to make some plans for the penitential season.

By Daria Sockey

I grew up in Parsippany, N.J., during the 1970s, in a neighborhood with lots of Catholics, mostly second-generation Irish and Italian. The week before Ash Wednesday, Whatcha’ givinup for Lent? opened many conversations at the bus stop or school cafeteria. Devout, lapsed, or somewhere in between, everyone gave up – or said they gave up – something. Top choices were candy, soda (we don’t have “pop” in New Jersey), or chocolate. Others would skip a favorite TV show such as “Happy Days,” “The Waltons,” or “Mary Tyler Moore.”Another popular option was to spend less time tuned into our favorite New York City top-40 station, 77 WABC.

Daria Sockey

Givinupstuff was such a popular topic in our public high school that even some of our Protestant friends, not wanting to be left out, got in on the act. Not that many of us were making these plans out of a deep desire for spiritual renewal. The incentive for us appearance-conscious girls to forego sweets was mainly the hope of shedding a few pounds. Maybe to attract the eyes of boys, or perhaps to show that we were tough enough to take on the challenge of a little self-deprivation.

Givinupstuff. An extension, or maybe a paraphrase, of the concept of fasting. Most of us lack the will power of the saints who would eat nothing — or at most a little bread and water — for days at a time. Most of us find it tough just to get through the one-full-meal/two-tiny-meals required of us on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. So we supplement these minimal fasts by “fasting” from other legitimate pleasures. The sense of emptiness these mini-fasts bring (whether to our stomachs, our schedules, or our psyches) is supposed to be filled by prayer and good works. And the money it can save should make it easier to give alms. Givinupstuff was as much a game as a spiritual discipline back in high school. It’s interesting to see how my practices have changed — or not changed — over the years.

Now that I’m a wife and mother of seven children, sacrifices related to food are still very much on the table, so to speak. These last two years our family succeeded in going meatless at dinnertime Monday through Friday, all through Lent. That imposes a triple penance on the cook: going without meat herself, coming up with creative menus, and enduring the kids’ reactions whenever those menus were not quite creative enough. Setting a good example, my husband struggled manfully through all those vegetarian dishes. “Mmmm! Lentil soup! Delicious, sweetheart!”

Media fasts have evolved for me since high school. Television and radio have become a very small part of my life. Giving up either is no huge sacrifice. But the computer – I never dreamed of back in the 70s that one day I’d not only own a computer, but find it addictively entertaining. The internet has replaced radio, television, the daily newspaper, and, due to social networks, even the pleasure of chatting on the phone with friends. Next to the traditional food fasts, cutting down on time-wasting internet fun is the fast I feel the most keenly. This year, my plan is to limit myself to checking email only three times per day, and no computing at all from the time my youngest gets home from school until after dinner. I’m ashamed to say this will be really hard!

My other big fast each year is something only women will appreciate: a fast on shopping. Other than groceries, there are very few things that we are really compelled to purchase during any given six-week period. I really can make do with the clothing, kitchen items, beauty products, and office supplies that we already own for the duration of Lent. The thrill of the bargain hunt, cruising store aisles for clearance sales, checking out the latest fashions, snagging a pretty piece of costume jewelry, a pair of shoes, a new DVD: this is fantastic givinup material for most of us females. Just toss those sale flyers in the trash without a glance, and be strong! Meanwhile, my menfolk scratch their heads and wonder why this constitutes a sacrifice.

Speaking of the Mars/Venus divide, married couples might want to discuss and coordinate their Lenten practices ahead of time. The first year of our marriage, I resolved to make more time to show love for my husband by improving my cooking skills and fixing more elaborate meals. He, on the other hand, had decided to fast several days per week. Imagine my dismay when he only nibbled at the Eggs Benedict I’d gotten up to fix him before he left for work. As with so many other marriage issues, communication is the key!

So...whatchagivinup for Lent?

Daria Sockey has been writing for the Catholic press for many years, most recently for Catholic Digest. Her book, The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours (Servant) will be out this year. She and her husband have seven children and one grandchild.