It is the season of Lent. What is Lent you ask? Well, simply put, it refers to the 40 days prior to Easter (the Old English word literally means “springtime”). The season of Lent is best known for people “giving something up.” More often than not it has something to do with food. While the idea of “giving something up” seems commendable, I often wonder just how commendable it really is.
It seems that most people I talk with about Lent tell me about their struggles in “giving up” sugar, chocolate, beer, or the like. When I ask why, or to what end, they they give it up they offer me some variation of “to learn self-discipline and self-control” or “in order to remove distractions and get closer to God.” Seems commendable, but quite honestly, I wonder if the self-control/discipline crowd is really thinking something like this-
Or if the “closer with God” group recognizes the absurdity of this-
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to guilt or shame anyone. I am just trying to point out that it seems we have lost our way even in matters that seem devout. It is also important to note that the problem with the Lenten practice of “giving something up” is actually a symptom of a larger problem. In simple terms, it is the age old problem of being turned in on oneself.
Let me put it this way. When did “giving something up” become a matter of personal gain- be that spiritual or temporal? When did we start using the vocabulary of “giving” to refer simply to abstaining? When did we settle at simply giving something up and not actually giving something out? We are a people called not to just avoid things but to do things! Our sacrifices need to have purpose beyond self.
Actually, it is striking how similar many of our Lenten practices have become to the shallow and unjust practices of Israel in the days of the Prophet Isaiah.
2 Day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isa 58:2-7)
The people of Israel had turned in on themselves and forgot the purpose of their devotion. I am afraid when we say I am “giving something up” for Lent may be doing very same thing.
In order to get our bearings, here are five things we must rediscover in this “season” of “giving something up!”
1) We must rediscover that, as followers of Jesus, we are not just called to “give something up,” but to “give something.” Our self-discipline cannot end at self!
2) We must rediscover that we are not called to give for a season, but for a lifetime.
3) We must rediscover that “our stuff” is not “our” stuff– it’s God’s. If there is something to “give up” this Lent let it be the notion that the stuff we possess is our’s to do with what we damn well please.
4) We must rediscover that not only is our stuff not our’s, but even we are not our own. We are his- having been bought with a price!
5) We must rediscover that we were made to bring God glory—to make known the gracious, just and good Creator and Redeemer by orienting our resources to reflect His glory.
Like I said, the issues with the way people often think of Lent are not about a problem with Lent. The issues are symptoms of being turned in on oneself. I invite you to take this time to examine yourself. We can all learn to better understand ourselves and lives in Christ if we are willing to keep it real.
One last note. It seems totally upside-down to our thinking most times, but it is in dying to oneself that life is found (Mt 10:39)! We should not mope in this but rejoice. It is, ultimately, a matter of joy not sorrow!
Please join us Saturday at 5:30 so you can throw tomatoes at me for ruining your Lenten diet plan 🙂