She wouldn’t give up her Barbies or the doll’s bed. Even though she doesn’t play with them. Even though they are dusty with neglect. Every few months we purge the unused, unloved clutter from our house and every few months I asked: “isn’t it time to pass those on?” And every time, she said no.

Just last week I put together another bag of clutter and asked about the barbies and doll’s bed. Again, she insisted they remain.

The day after we dropped off our donations, I got an email from a friend who is setting up a child therapy practice. He will be working with traumatized kids, he said, and often they can’t tell their story with words but they act it out with toys. His start-up practice was pretty empty: did we have any toys that we were done with which we could send his way?

I didn’t expect much from my kids, since it had been just days since our last clean-out, but I decided to ask anyway. “We have a friend who is helping kids who have been hurt and who are scared to feel better. My friend says one of the ways that helps kids is to be able to tell their story with dolls and toys, and he wondered if we had any we could share?” I sat stunned as my 6 year old kicked into high gear. A pile of figurines, finger puppets and Little People grew in the center of the floor. The two Barbies were added to the pile, and then she ran from the room. I wondered where she might have gone to, but seconds later she reappeared lumbering the heft of a dolls bed and adding it to the pile.

“Are you sure?” I said.

“Maybe it will help kids who have had nightmares,” she said. “You know, to have a bed to tell their story.” I hugged her so hard she complained.

* * * * * *

I’ve been mulling over what I learned from my daughter last week. Giving something up is not the same as giving something away. She was not willing to just give up the Barbies, but she was willing to give them to kids who might need them.

Giving things up is hard. Giving things away in love is still hard, but it makes it worth it. There’s a world of difference between sacrifice, and sacrificial giving. My daughter’s generosity reminded me of all the times I have tried to cut sugar out of my diet. My “cold turkey” efforts have seldom lasted longer than 3 days… except for that one time when the doctor told me I had gestational diabetes and I had to quit eating sugar for the health of my baby. That time, it stuck that day, and it stuck for months.

Giving up sugar sacrificially? No way. Giving up sugar to love my kid? Yes.

I am reminded that Jesus didn’t just sacrifice his life. He sacrificed his life “for the joy set before him“, in love for us. I am reminded that sacrifice in itself is not the point, it’s sacrificing in order to better love another. And this, in itself, gives me a little clue as to understanding Lent. Maybe I made a mistake in thinking Lent was just about “giving something up”. If Lent was just about sacrifice, no wonder it has never stuck with me. I always wondered how giving up chocolate could possibly tie to Jesus giving up his life. But if Lent is a season not just to give something up, but to give something away in love, to give something up in order to make space, in order to bless, in order to have reserves of energy or time or money with which to love others – it makes more sense to me.

There’s a white plastic bag filled with toys, two barbies and a dolls bed making its way to a therapy office. I’m thinking about that bag: I’m grateful, I’m challenged, and I might just consider observing Lent next year.