My earliest Easter memory is of my mother cautioning my older brother and me that if we didn’t pick up the nails we’d spilled on the front porch of our Oregon ranch, the Easter bunny couldn’t come to our house. He’d hurt his feet. Then there was the time she cleverly disguised a carpet sweeper as an Easter gift. We’d get to clean floors? Oh, joy!

Mom also did away with the traditional Easter basket. Too commercial. And think of the waste from so many, many baskets piling up in landfills? Instead, we had Easter hats. Not fancy, new hats. Before bed on Easter Eve, my brother and I simply laid our ball caps topside down on the dining room table in anticipation of what treats we’d find in the morning. Usually dried fruit.

My husband, Dana, and I have carried on some of these same traditions with our own kids, excluding the carpet sweeper, which would do little good against Maine mud. We’ve also added a few traditions of our own, including observing Lent, the 40ish days of prayer and fasting that precede Christians’ annual observance of Christ’s resurrection.

It’s a quirky tradition all its own. One of the oldest Christian observances, Lent was likely practiced from the time of the earliest apostles — although it wasn’t formally recognized until about 300 years later. Just like other Easter traditions, various Christian groups celebrate the season in various ways. This year, Dana and I gave up, or fasted from, wheat, white sugar and dairy – well mostly.

For me, it was an exercise in learning to say no to myself in a culture that constantly encourages us to say yes. Yes to that chocolatey, whipped-creamy dessert. Yes to whatever I feel like whenever I want it. Yes to more than I actually need or is good for me. Observing Lent made me stop and evaluate my choices before simply acting on my desires.

This, I think, is a little of what the apostle Paul meant when he said that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” Galatians 5:24.  Not all desires are wrong. Just like it isn’t wrong to enjoy an occasional treat. But when we are ruled by our desires, the outcome is as physically unhealthy as it is spiritually.

And so what better way to mark the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus than by crucifying – or putting to death – those things that would seek to enslave us? As Americans, we live in the freest civilization in the world, but without self-restraint, we will ultimately enslave ourselves. Likewise, as followers of Christ, we have been set free from needing to earn our own righteousness by perfectly observing the rules and requirements of the law – a good thing, considering the number of times I slipped up on my fast.

Instead, we can receive the gift of Christ’s righteousness and live in ultimate freedom – the freedom of grace. Now that is true joy, no carpet sweeper required.

Meadow Rue Merrill, the author of Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Connect at