A blessed [almost] Lent to you all. Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. Are you ready?
I’ve been talking to a number of people lately about their spiritual plans for Lent, and I’ve been surprised to hear almost everyone I talk to say something along the lines of “I might give something up, I don’t know. I think it’s more important to do something for Lent though.” I’ve definitely heard of taking on a new spiritual practice during Lent, and I wholeheartedly approve. I was surprised, however, to hear how little spiritual significance people seemed to attribute to giving something up.
Why should I give something up? Usually the things we give up are pretty inconsequential. Chocolate, junk food, alcohol. Stuff we’d like to have, but certainly can live without (one would hope!). So what’s the point?
First, I should say, giving something up for Lent is not a mandatory practice, but it is a salutary one. Salutary, you ask? This means that giving up something for Lent produces good effects. So what good effects can giving up chocolate for forty days possibly have? I can think of four:
– 1 –
When we give up something good for a period of time for Christ, it has the good effect of teaching us that these things we enjoy, even love, are things we can do without. It reminds us of our freedom in Christ. Yet this freedom is not always easily won. How many times have I given up sugar only to downgrade my commitment to desserts immediately after meals or really just to chocolate? But with practice and perseverance I can learn to declare this with Paul: “I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil 3:8-9).
– 2 –
Giving up something good when it wouldn’t be sinful to indulge trains us how to forego pleasure when it is sinful. This is important since that time will undoubtedly come! Practicing this ahead of time strengthens our resolve for when we need it. It is not easy to resist sin. Temptations are tempting for a reason! If we regularly practice doing without some pleasures to strengthen our will power and focus our intent on Christ, however, we can grow the muscles necessary to resist.
– 3 –
Experiencing our little bit of “suffering” allows us to join our experience with Christ’s on the cross. It’s true, the average person probably incurs more day-to-day suffering than that incurred by foregoing soda for 40 days. When we give something up to suffer with Christ, however, we make an intentional decision to join our experience with that of Jesus’. The Lenten practice of tasting a little bit of suffering is a discipline that helps us learn how to face the more consequential sufferings of our lives through faith in Jesus who took on the Cross for our sake. A way to practice joining your suffering to Christ’s is to offer a prayer for a loved one every time you go without the indulgence you’ve given up for Lent.
– 4 –
Giving up something for Lent reminds us just how much God was willing to give up so that we could be in right relationship with him. It reminds us that Jesus spared nothing when pouring out his life on our behalf. God’s love is total, freely given, for us, out of love. Lent reminds us to offer back what little we can out of gratitude. No, God doesn’t care about the chocolate per se, but he does care about our intention; and beyond that, he does care that we learn to offer our whole lives to him out of gratitude for the incalculable gift of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
I hope something in there has inspired you to give something up with gusto! I’m starting to feel ready for Lent now too. It’s not the most fun, but hey, it’s good for our souls!
My prayers for a salutary Lent to you all.