CHARLESTON, W.Va. - When you're a kid and you're introduced to the concept of Lent, what you mostly get out of it is that you're supposed to give up something for 40 days.
And if you're a kid in Catholic school, and the nuns ask their students what they plan on giving up, chances are one of your classmates - or you, if you're the cheeky one - says "I'm going to give up homework."
As if Sister Bridgetta had never heard that one before.
If you continue to carry on in your faith, you eventually come to recognize and appreciate the purpose of Christ's 40 days in the desert, as well as the suffering he endured before his humiliating death.
So when Ash Wednesday rolls around, you've got a clearer idea of why you're doing what you're doing. In a very small way, you are trying to follow the example of sacrifice.
Modern teaching extends the reflective nature of the Lenten season to include not only self-privation, but also growth and nurturing of the spirit.
For some, the focus may then shift away from, say, giving up chocolate for six weeks to volunteering to work at a soup kitchen as a type of penance and dedication to service that could last a lifetime.
One of my earliest efforts, as a teen, was to try to cleanse my potty mouth. I gave up swearing for Lent.
Looking back, I don't recall my language being any worse than any of my peers, but it was probably just gratuitous in the way that discovering the freedom to use naughty words leads to all manner of profanities and vulgarities just to say them.
I remember stumbling not far from the gate. I'm not sure I even made it to the finish.
I think I tried a few times more to kick the habit, but I've mostly given up. Besides, I've spent most of my working life in a newsroom, so I'm probably a lost cause.
I'm entering my 10th year of giving up my favorite vice, cheeseburgers.