By H.M. Cauley
It’s been a little longer than two weeks, and Juanita Williamson has not had a cookie. The sweet-treat lover isn’t on a diet; she’s forgoing the simple pleasure as a sacrifice for the season of Lent.
Small acts of self-denial are hallmarks of the period before Easter, when Christians celebrate their belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To prepare spiritually for that event, it’s long been a time of going without.
“My granddaughters are also giving something up — candy and video games!” said Williamson. “They think it’s great that I’m giving up cookies, because they know how much I like to make and eat them.”
Williamson, who lives in Dunwoody and attends St. Jude’s the Apostle Catholic Church in Sandy Springs, grew up attending Catholic school and learned early on that Lent was a time of denial. But now, at 63, she also focuses on doing positive things as well.
“As an adult, I feel Lent is more about giving instead of giving up,” she said. “I try to do something positive; I want to be more proactive. I particularly try to extend myself to others in a way I don’t do the rest of the year.”
Among Williamson’s Lenten activities are attending daily mass and praying for those who can’t attend themselves; reaching out to friends she hasn’t spoken with in some time; and being more available to those she loves.
“I think generally, people are not so available anymore,” she said. “But that’s what Lent should be — a time to share yourself. Giving something up is fine, and it’s a wonderful thing for a child to learn, but for adults, I think Lent is more about extending yourself.”
Giving of oneself is important to members of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Buckhead. This year, the church’s annual Great Day of Service falls in the middle of Lent. More than 1,200 have signed up to work on 79 service projects around the city and lend a helping hand to others in need.
“In Lent, both those elements of giving up and giving are there – it is a twofold thing for many people,” said associate pastor Karla Otroszko. “Most of the folks I’ve talked to are giving things up that they found were a drain on their time – things like TV and social media – so that their time is freed up to focus more on their spiritual lives and active services. I’m picking up an extra devotional reading each day.”
For Catherine Fuss, a longtime member of Holy Spirit Catholic Church on Mount Paran Road, Lent is a family affair of sacrificing and doing. The Sandy Springs resident has opted to do a little of both.
“I try to sacrifice something that will be a little difficult, but I also add something that will spiritually enrich me or the people around me,” said Fuss. “So this year, I gave up Facebook, which was something that’s really pleasurable, but also something I was spending way too much time on. I found that time can be better spent on other things. For instance, in conjunction with some other women from Holy Spirit, I’m on a 40-day journey of doing something every day to improve my marriage, through prayer, performing acts of kindness and putting unconditional love into practice.”
Fuss’s 9-year-old son has opted for a sacrifice. “He has given up dark chocolate, which for him is something very difficult!” she said. “But my kindergartner is doing good deeds.”
The Rev. David Sapp, senior pastor at Second Ponce de Leon Baptist in Buckhead, said his congregation falls “somewhere in the middle” when it comes to Lenten practices.
“We do things for Lent — for instance, we did have an Ash Wednesday service,” he said. “We view it as a time of repentance, a weeping for the sins of the world and self-denial. So I have heard people talking about giving things up, and food and drink are usually high on that list.”
For Williamson, giving something up and extending herself makes the season a special time of year that leads up to the biggest celebration in the liturgical year.
“Frankly, Easter is my favorite holiday,” she said. “As a Catholic, it is what religion is all about. Christmas might have the joy, but Easter is all about hope, rebirth and new life. I love celebrating that there is a resurrection, and that we will be back with the Lord in the end.”