Succeeding at Lent by Compromise and Cheating

by | Feb 28, 2022 | February, Lent, Liturgical Living, March | 1 comment

Happy Fat Tuesday, y’all! Scroll to the bottom for a Mardi Gras party printable freebie.

Note: Illustrations are from vintage crime novel covers

Lent, you guys. Here it comes again. Late this year, but coming nonetheless. I’ve written about how my general approach to Lent has changed over the years:

I used to labor under what I think is a pretty common misconception about Lent: that we are supposed to be miserable for these forty days. But, really, that’s not the right way to look at it. Lent isn’t a time to try to punish ourselves into being deserving of God’s grace. (Especially since that’s not possible, at Lent or any other time.) Lent is a time to try to be our best selves, to take up new practices that lead us towards God and to leave behind practices that distract us from God.

The Catholic All Year Compendium p160

I think a great focus as we head into Lent is the concept of detachment. Lent is an opportunity to prove to myself that I don’t NEED or DESERVE my little personal crutches and rewards.

The big personal and family adjustments we make as voluntary Lenten disciplines certainly didn’t come easily at first. These days, while my kids don’t love it, they ARE expecting it, and it’s not such a big deal. But it was a very hard adjustment at first (it took us three years of trying to actually succeed at not watching TV during Lent) and it’s still a somewhat hard adjustment every year.

So, what’s worked for us? What has allowed our family to manage to live without our two big attachments (treats and screens), for over a decade of Lents now?

Easy: Cheating and compromise.

Really. And I think it’s totally legit, too. This is the approach that’s really helped me and the rest of my family manage to conquer our voluntary Lenten disciplines, year after year, and to benefit from that during the rest of the year.


We have recourse to Sunday. This was the single biggest “cheat” that initially helped me succeed at giving up my personal biggest attachments. Six weeks feels like a LONG time, six days isn’t so bad. I know people have strongly held differing opinions on this, but it’s a fact that Lent on a calendar is 46 days but “Lent” is 40 days long. Our voluntary Lenten disciplines were always voluntary anyway, so it’s not “breaking” any Lenten requirements to plan to indulge on Sunday in something we’ve given up for Lent (as long as it’s not an immoral thing).

Back in the olden days of the aughts when I first started trying to take Lent seriously, it was a genuinely big concern for me that the TiVo was going to eat my episodes of Heroes and Lost and The Office and what would I do then? Wait a year for the season to come out on DVD and get it in the actual mail from Netflix? #idontthinkso I’m not saying that it was a good concern. But it was a genuine one at the time. And knowing that I could get up super early Sunday morning and watch my absolute favorite shows gave me the strength to give all of it up the rest of the week.

On Fat Tuesday, we eat or get rid of all the treats in the house, since we give them up for Lent. But then we are faced with the issue of what to do with newly acquired treats. This is a balancing act for everyone, weighing piety vs charity in a specific situation, but in most circumstances, it has worked for us to have the kids bring treats they are offered home and save them for Sunday.


The other secret is substitutions. This one seems like it should be obvious and, um, kind of the entire point of Lent. But it wasn’t obvious to me, and was even a harder sell to myself than Sunday cheat day. So in case it’s also not obvious to you, I’ll break it down.

I thought I should be able to go cold turkey on mediocre stuff and let the best stuff fill in the hole. But in practice I found that substituting a better thing while on the road to the goal of the BEST thing was more successful.

Water and quiet would be best. Regular hot tea instead of my preferred sugary chai latte and flavored sparkling water instead of soda works for me. I read or listen to worthwhile books (see this post for my Lenten favorites) instead of watching TV. Music in the car is classical instead of pop. I talked with Cameron Fradd on her podcast last week and she said that they cut out all their “regular” streaming services and only watch Formed, which sounds like a good approach!

Even though I dread them every year, I also genuinely appreciate our voluntary Lenten disciplines. I like knowing that the things I like aren’t in charge of me, and I can live without them. Being able to manage that during the days of Lent has allowed me to make important changes to the way I enjoy licit but unnecessary things the rest of the year.

This might be a waypoint on my journey to a perfectly penitential Lent with no cheats or compromises, or maybe this is the best I’ll ever be able to manage. But, I will say that, for now, it’s been a way to move closer to my goals and continue down that road of increased personal holiness.

So, as you finalize your voluntary Lenten disciplines this year, maybe your secret to success will be a little cheating and compromise?

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler

Happy Fat Tuesday! I hope you’re kicking up your heels today before you get your ashes and get serious tomorrow! Here’s a post from the archives with how we’ll be celebrating:

Mardi Gras Madness and a Hoodoo Movie Review

Tricia from the CAY Team designed these darling free printable Mardi Gras masks for you!

A Few Catholic All Year Resources for Lent

1 Comment

  1. Suzie @ Orate Fratres Designs

    This year I have chosen moderation in food as my Lenten discipline, with the specific intention of drawing me closer to God rather than focusing on particular food rules or on self-denial for its own sake. We as a family always do meatless Lents but it’s not a particular hardship for us because we don’t eat much meat anyway, so I’m doing that too but it’s genuinely no big deal – just a moment of thought to remember when meal planning.

    It’s already been interesting to observe my attitude to food when the question is “How will this draw me closer to God?” rather than “Ugh, not eating chocolate sucks! When will this be over?!”

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

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