Lent: You Don’t Have To, You Get To

It is not at all uncommon for a student to bring me a concern (read: complaint) about something that he or she has to do. The “have to” is often something egregious – having to take a test, having to write a paper, having to be responsible. My response to these concerns is, verbatim, always the same. “You don’t have to, you get to. You’re welcome.”

As adults, we too are often guilty of taking this same perspective – that which is challenging is a burden and, therefore, undesirable. Now that we are in the season of Lent, many of us have identified something to give up, to sacrifice, because “we have to.” I understand that doing so replicates Jesus’ own sacrifice, and yes, I see the value in making room in my life for something that is more important, but do I really have to go without chocolate/soda/technology for the next forty days?

You don’t have to, you get to. You’re welcome.

This past weekend, as I was trying, through frustration and with minimal enthusiasm, to decide what I would give up during this Lenten season, my family was preparing for our Sunday dinner (thank you, Mrs. Fletcher, for making sure that we put everything aside to spend time together as a family each week). In a Hallmark-movie moment, my youngest daughter jumped on me, and as she did so, I had a things-in-the-Fletcher-house-are-really-good epiphany. To be clear, things in the Fletcher house are chaotic, as we are currently college-searching for my oldest, changing diapers for my youngest, and doing everything in between. Amid that chaos, and despite the true struggles that we do face (as do all families, some more so than others), we know that we are blessed.

It occurred to me at that moment that I had never considered being grateful for the ability to give something up for Lent. The fact is, though, that there are so many families, in our own communities and around the world, for whom our everyday privileges are not a possibility. I am blessed to have the material goods that I do, and so much more blessed to have family and friends that love and support me. How abundant must my blessings be, if I have the ability to choose which I will do without for the next forty days.

I don’t have to give something up for the next forty days, I get to. I am blessed.

~Michael Fletcher, Dean of Students