Remember the days of past Lents when we thought it necessary to “give up” something in preparation for Easter? It might be movies, desserts, chewing gum, chocolate or any other favorite. This year we would gladly give up winter, but it appears we’ll have to make the best of it and hope spring will arrive by Easter.  

It’s difficult to keep a positive attitude when we see more snow on the way, a boon to outdoor enthusiasts but not so much to those who have difficulty maneuvering the slippery sidewalks. We know that sunny winter days in Wisconsin mean cold, but they do help us fight the winter blues. Whether you live alone or with a spouse or other family member, it’s time to find ways to carry through these late winter days -– other than by joining the bears in hibernation!

The best choice for being positive may be to enjoy a hearty Valentine’s Day celebration with family or friends, or to invent your own one-day holiday. Then it’s time to make upbeat Lenten preparations that include body, soul and mind.

Rather than try the annual late winter diet to lose a few pounds, look to the Bible for simple foods. In Jesus’ time there were no TV dinners. Bread was the daily staple. Fish and simple meats (probably lamb, goat, mutton, beef and chicken) are mentioned along with cheese, eggs, vegetables of the region (beans, cucumbers, leeks, onions and lentils), fruits (figs, dates, grapes, pomegranates, and olives) and nuts (almonds and pistachios).

These could be varied with salt, herbs (garlic and mustard) and olive oil. We know they also had wine, water, milk and probably juices made from fruits and vegetables. 

Sounds like a pretty basic diet with enough nourishment to assist in all the walking necessary to get from place to place and to do the work of the day.

When Jesus was in Jerusalem, a major thoroughfare for international traffic, there were surely other items available in the markets, but I don’t recall reading about chocolates, apple pie or cookies.   

Rather than denying favorite foods, try preparing simple meals, not packaged and frozen entrees. This part has to start at the grocery store. Don’t buy tempting packaged foods loaded with sugars and starches. If food cravings send you to the candy or cookie jar, be sure it stays empty or contains nuts or popcorn. Remember to gather at the table for meals and to begin with prayer.   

Lean meat, oven-roasted or steamed vegetables, and fresh fruits provide energy and vitamins. Ask your doctor. Fresh and simple are “in” to promote a change in lifestyle and help stave off the onset of diabetes, high blood pressure or heart problems and a more recent upsurge of food allergies.  Clean your shelves of those that could tempt you; give them to the local food pantry or toss if outdated.  

Exercise goes along with eating healthy to keep bones and muscles in tune. If you’re homebound, move around more during the day. Have a daily plan. At least once an hour, get up from your favorite chair and walk around inside. Return to a different chair and change activities – reading to writing a letter or another hobby like sewing, knitting, wood carving, word games or puzzles.

Call a friend or relative and plan an outing during good weather. Find a buddy to talk to or go walking with – to the mall or large department store in bad weather.  Just leave your money/credit cards at home or have a definite list of needs with no extras allowed. Visit a homebound friend or neighbor.

Tackle one pile of paperwork or clean out a drawer. Reread recent Christmas cards. Look over family photos. Write the names and dates on the backs and sort the extras to pass on to family or friends. Put the saved ones in albums to look at with children or grandchildren and enjoy in your old age – always a few years older than now. 

By simplifying what goes into our bodies and finding ways to increase energy by being active, we make room to open our hearts and souls to God’s love and to learn his purpose for our lives. We’ll find that it’s not “what’s the minimum to do during Lent” but how to best prepare to share more in God’s life and goodness by putting our life in his hands and allowing him to work with and through us.

Plan a spiritual journey that will take you through all of the 40 days of Lent – weekday Mass when possible, an EWTN program or religious radio broadcast, a minimum of 15 minutes spiritual reading (Bible, meditation, lives of the saints or popes, the weekly Catholic Herald, bishops’ messages online), a daily rosary (if you can’t find time during the day, take the beads to bed for the times you might awake during the night), perhaps a retreat, Bible study class or day of reflection. 

If you open your mind and heart to those around you and to the voice of God, your days leading into spring will be filled with heavenly sunshine and joy.

(King, a member of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, North Lake, is married to Thomas. They have seven children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.)