Lent is an important family tradition and has been a great source of family conversation in our home. This year it started the same way it has for many years: "Dad, what are you giving up this year?"
My answer has always been the same: "I am giving up red meat, all sweets and alcohol." My wife, Susie, would give up wine.
For the uninitiated, Lent is a 40-day period prior to the celebration of Easter where most voluntarily give up a small pleasure or indulgence as a means to draw you closer to your faith.
You may have witnessed this before. You are at the movies with your friend who would normally eat a whole tub of hot butter popcorn with chocolate-covered ice cream Dips and drink an extra large root beer soda. She now orders water and snuck in carrots to munch on. Or you are out with your buddies on a Saturday night watching the Lakers lose again and your best friend orders an iced tea instead of his usual 32-oz. frosted mug of ice cold brewski.
What the heck is going on? Then you remember, it's Lent.
For some, Lent is like a mini-New Year's resolution -- but it only lasts 40 days. The operative word is "only."
Several web surveys this year revealed the most-mentioned Lenten sacrifices. Can you guess the top answers? If you said chocolate, you are correct, followed by alcohol and tweeting. Other popular items like forgoing sweets, soda, coffee, alcohol and fast foods made the top 20 list.
Many agree Lent carries with it a deep spiritual significance. This year's Lent started last Wednesday. Today is March 10 and for some of you, this past weekend parties or a family get-together were your first Lenten sacrifice test...and with many more to come before Easter.
I thoroughly enjoy listening to my children banter as to which self-indulgent items they intended to give up.
The choices of my daughters, Nikki and Brenna, matched those given in the national web surveys. Sweets, sodas and fast food were on the top of their list, while my twin sons, Aaron and Sean, chose to give up beer or the ambiguous, "I will try and eat better" promise.
Then the lobbing and debate began to take place.
Sweets contain sugar, right? So if I eat a sugar-free cookie or a sugar-free candy, then I'm OK, right? And is club soda considered a "real soda?"
What if I get a salad from the Substation? Is that considered "fast food?" And if I drink an alcohol-free O'Doul's beer, then it's not really drinking alcohol. You can eat or drink whatever you want on Sundays, right?
My son-in-law Carlos said it best: His Lenten choices are between him and God. But he did relent and say he would try to make private changes that would last throughout this year to make him stronger for the next Lenten season.
I really liked his answer. He is already a very special man who has earned my trust and love, but like most of us, can always improve our lifestyle.
I pray all my children continue to keep to their promises ... Lenten or otherwise.
Without exception, I have successfully given up red meat, all sweets and alcohol for Lent for the last 25 years. And I actually extend the practice to my June 1 birthday. But to be completely honest and because of my extended period of self-denial, I have created two self-imposed exceptions to my Lenten sacrificing.
The first exception is if I am out of the state. The second is when I can see an ocean from where I sit or stand. If I meet either of those two criteria, stand aside.
Lent is an important family tradition in our home of will over matter, supporting one another during a time of psychological trial and realizing short-term pain can bring long-term benefits -- mentally, physically and most importantly with our faith.
If you are one of the millions of people participating in this solemn observance, I bid you strength, fortitude and stamina during Lent.
And I will see you in Las Vegas or San Clemente Beach very soon.
-- Steve Flores is a contributing columnist for The Californian. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.