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  • Writer's pictureThe OCD Catholic

A Guide to Lent for the Scrupulous


Hi... It's been a minute. Life has gotten busy over here over the last few months. I also have felt like I have little or nothing to say that is worth a blog post. So, it's been pretty radio silent here. But, you can follow me on social media for more day-to-day type stuff! And now, onto the post you clicked on to read!


Like it or not, Lent is coming. I love Lent, and the Triduum, and Easter, so this time of year is my favorite. That said, it’s one of the worst times for scrupulous people. When Lent starts to get closer, I get overwhelmed easily. What to give up, what to add, devotionals to choose from, foods to avoid, fasting, the list of triggers goes on. So let’s talk about tackling Lent for the scrupulous.


The point of Lent is to prepare ourselves for the joy of Easter. So as we talk about preparing for Lent, let’s always ask “will this make me ready for a joyful Easter?”

The three pillars of Lent are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, so let’s jump in! It’s okay if you can’t do all three, even though obviously that’s ideal.


Giving up for Lent

The biggest Lenten penance is to give something up. I think we have all given up sweets at some point, or TV or social media. The thing that I struggle with when it comes to giving something up for Lent is resolutions that are too broad. For example, I can’t give up unnecessary spending because that is too broad of a category and invites too many opportunities for caveats.


Another way I like to look at the way I give things up for Lent is how it will look in my day to day life. I don’t like giving up things that occur multiple times a day, like the opportunity to go on social media or YouTube. Sometimes those things are good and I can manage them, but other times I just need to give something up that will only come up once in a day. For example, giving up the snooze button in the morning or cream in coffee. Something small that will affect the course of my day, but won’t keep coming up throughout the day. I find that if I do something like that, it helps to make Lent much more manageable.


Another thing I’m often tempted to do during Lent is to give up ALL THE THINGS. I’m tempted to go and live like a hermit in the desert, when in reality that is not necessarily what will give me the most fruitful Lenten season. It is certainly not what God has called me to. I try and hold myself to giving up just ONE thing each Lent, which makes things much easier on my scrupulous heart. It is hard to give up just one thing when I really want to be a “Super-Catholic” and give up as much as possible. But then I remember St. Therese, whose Little Way was to do small things with great love. I can do one small thing with great love, and that pleases God too, because He knows my heart and is pleased with my efforts.


Often throughout the day I’ll want to do something like have a bowl of ice cream or something and think to myself, “but it’s Lent! I should be giving up more. All I’m giving up is this one other measly thing.” It’s okay that I’m only giving up the one measly thing, because I know that is sometimes all that I can do. If I feel up to it, I might refrain from the bowl of ice cream, but often I will let myself have it because I am committing to only giving up the ONE THING for Lent. Even that in and of itself can be a penance because it is a detachment from our desires to take on more than we can handle.


Prayer, or “adding something in”

Often one of the things people say to do for Lent is to add something in to your routine for Lent, be it a devotional, Bible study, daily Rosary, or any other number of things. Since we are supposed to devote ourselves even more to prayer during Lent, this makes sense. But again, like we talked about above with fasting, it is important not to overwhelm yourself with trying to do ALL THE THINGS. Especially in the Internet age, it is so easy to compare ourselves to others and say, “well so and so is doing something prayerful with this ministry AND that ministry. Why can’t I be like him/her?” You were not created to be someone else, you were created to be YOU and you shouldn’t compare yourself to others. I know its cheesy and cliché to say, but it’s true!


Another aspect of internet living that makes Lent difficult is the marketing around all of these different retreats and devotionals and studies and on and on and on. We all want to have a good and fruitful Lent, but we can’t do that if we feel pressured to take part in a Lenten activity that seems like its “required” to be a good Catholic. Lent is an invitation to a deeper relationship with Jesus, not a sporting event to see who can do it the best. You don’t have to do the best and newest, most challenging Lenten devotional or study out there just because all your favorite Catholic instagrammers are talking about how great it is and how it is going to completely change your life. Simply praying a daily Rosary if you don’t already is good enough, and frankly better than any trendy devotional out there.


Almsgiving

This is one of the aspects of Lent I know the least about. However, I know that you should not give beyond your means, and if your means do not include financial giving, then it is perfectly acceptable to volunteer your time or talent at your parish or in your community. If you can give financially, be prudent in your giving. If you are looking for organizations to which you can donate, crisis pregnancy centers are great, as well as convents and monasteries who live only on donations. Plus, then you get a whole bunch of priests and sisters and monks praying for you, which we all could use more of!


Days of Fasting/Abstinence

This is the worst part of Lent for me. Hands down, no question. The worst part. I started out fasting when I was 16 or 18, whichever the Church tells you to, and it was fine at first. Then my OCD got worse and fasting got harder. I didn’t know how much food was a meal or a small meal, and felt incapable of doing the “fasting math” by myself, so often I would end up not eating anything, or at least very little food until after midnight. Then one year I found a little line on the USCCB website (as of posting I could not find a link to it) that said people who are mentally ill can be excused from fasting for legitimate health reasons. Well, I thought to myself, a mental breakdown and starving myself because I want to avoid a mental breakdown seems like a legitimate health reason. So for the last few Ash Wednesdays and Good Fridays, I have not been fasting. I will abstain from meat because that isn’t nearly as much of a trigger for me, but the fasting I don’t do. I don’t go out of my way to eat extravagant meals, rather I just eat as I normally would, maybe swapping a preferred meal for something I don’t like as much, or a slightly smaller portion. This has made all the difference in my mental health and my experience of Lent. At first, I needed to have my then-spiritual director give me a formal dispensation for my reassurance, but if you have valid health concerns around fasting, the Church does allow you to make that call for yourself, as far as I know. When in doubt, ask a priest.



Lent is supposed to be a time of preparation and penance as we get closer to Easter. But it doesn’t have to be torturous for those of us who have OCD/scrupulosity. There are ways to make it easier on you. If you can go all out for Lent, good for you! God reward and bless you. But if you need to make some modifications so that you can maintain a healthy life, that is also totally fine. God reward and bless you! As is often said, “at the end of our life we will be judged by our love” (St. John of the Cross). So if you make your Lenten resolutions with love, no matter how small they are, God will still be proud of you.


Here’s to a holy and blessed Lent!


I am praying for you all!

St. Therese, pray for us.

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