Ask some Dominican Sisters of Hope what they’re giving up for Lent, and you might be surprised at their answers. Lent is traditionally a time of fasting, almsgiving, and penance; but it’s easy to lose the true meaning of these when we focus our attention on display or grandiose gestures.

According to Dominican Sister of Hope Louise Levesque, OP, Lent is actually less about exerting energy outward and all about our unseen relationship with God.

Sister Louise Levesque

“The expectation is that we will give up something very tangible for Lent,” she says. “Yet, the things that we give up often become a conversation topic rather than focusing inward and deepening our relationship with God.”

This year, consider approaching Lent in a way that brings you closer to God. Below, Sister Louise shares three ways to grow in holiness during Lent, aside from giving up your favorite food or dessert.

1. Fast from Intangible Things

“Years ago when we were growing up, the emphasis was on ‘giving up,’” Sister Louise remembers. “Everybody was giving up something for Lent, and it was usually something like candy. It never dawned on you that there might be another way to approach Lent.”

Nowadays, Sister Louise prefers to fast from intangible things rather than material ones. For instance, we might fast from complaining, criticizing, a know-it-all attitude, the need to be right, the need to be in control, negativity, anger, resentment, indifference, pettiness, worry, gossip, self-righteousness, procrastination, etc. (Catholic Journal has an even longer list here.)

They’re all un-pretty parts of ourselves. And, as we focus on reforming them, we also draw closer to the spirit of God within us.

“God asks us to focus on what is needed to deepen our relationship with Christ and to raise awareness of Christ in our lives,” Sister Louise says. “As I’m fasting from [these vices] I’m doing what God is asking me to do.”

2. Add Good Deeds

Instead of giving something up, many sisters do good works during Lent.

Whether it’s donating money to a favorite nonprofit organization, volunteering at or donating to a local soup kitchen, purging your closet and donating extra clothing, or researching volunteer jobs to help within your community, Lent is certainly time to give a little extra in both time and resources.

“Because we’re becoming more aware that there are so many needs out there, we think of Lent as a time to reach out to people in need,” Sister Louise explains. “Actually doing something that helps someone else in that way is spiritual in nature.”

3. Pray More

Lent is modeled after the forty days and forty nights that Jesus spent fasting in the desert; it only makes sense, then, that we strive to emulate Jesus throughout our forty days of fast.

“We deepen our relationship with God by carrying out what Christ showed us,” Sister Louise says. “Christ modeled how to live; we try to follow in those footsteps.”

As we focus on a deeper relationship with God, we should also ask what God wants of us and to listen to God’s call within our lives. According to Sister Louise, Lent is as much about action as it is about raising personal awareness. Consciousness starts in prayer and reflection.

God asks us to focus on what is needed to deepen our relationship with Christ and to raise awareness of Christ in our lives.

As for Sister Louise, her plan for Lent is a little different from these ideas. She focuses on random acts of kindness throughout the forty days in order to spread the joy, peace, and hope of Christ to those around her. In doing so, she also becomes more conscious of the needs of those around her, and of her own inclinations throughout the day.

“I don’t plan each act ahead of time, but I’m always on the lookout for times when I can quietly reach out,” Sister says. “It’s just very simple; nothing grandiose. It would almost not be worth talking about.”

A Lent that’s quiet, introspective, and not brag-worthy? Now that’s worth a shot.