“What are you giving up for Lent?”
That’s a common question within the Christian (or at least the church-attending) community. It’s asked with the same intensity and passion as, “When are you getting that root canal?” Both are viewed as something to be endured rather than embraced.
Growing up as child and even entering into young adulthood, I didn’t hear much about Lent. Ash Wednesday maybe, but not Lent. Perhaps it was my denomination, or my church’s congregation or the pastor(s) during those years but not much attention rested upon the practices of Lent. Even now, I’m not certain about the correct terminology of Lent. Is Lent “celebrated,” “practiced,” “participated in,”? Personally, I prefer “celebrated” because like all means of grace – it is worth celebrating.
My first real encounter with Lent came as a young adult through discussions with other Christians whose churches were apparently more participative in Lent. The focus was on “what to give up for those 40 days.” More than a few chose to give up “chocolate” hoping a side benefit would be to lose a few pounds. One friend shared that when she was younger she had worried her mother was an alcoholic because every night before bed her mother would drink one glass of wine. The daughter was re-assured, however, when she realized that her mother – a devout Catholic would give up her nightly wine during Lent with no physical withdrawals. I smile about that now.
There was no particular “aha” moment for me in discovering the beauty of Lent, instead there were many – mainly as the result of my personal Bible study and relationship with the Lord. God seems to require so little of us in relationship to what He has done and continues to do for us. There seems to be so little sacrifice on our part. Surely there is more he desires from us. And it was over the years of study, prayer, guidance through the Holy Spirit and powerful teachings from pastors and fellow believers that I began to find the real purpose of Lent. At least the purpose for me.
While I love the New Testament and the freedom it declares with the revelation of Christ and his eternal kingdom, I equally love the Old Testament which provides the backstory of why the New Testament story was needed. It is in the book of Isaiah that I find my meaning for Lent. Isaiah 58 is subtitled True Fasting in my NIV translation. Here you will find the prophet taking the kingdom of Judah to task for their hypocrisy. He confronts them about their outward appearances of worship/fasting but their interactions with others; the the poor, the oppressed, the needy – reveal their true character. (Reminds me of Jesus’ taking to task the religious elite and calling the ‘white-washed tombstones’, i.e. pretty on the outside but downright nasty on the inside.)
According to Isaiah and Jesus, fasting/worship/Lent has less to do with what we give up and more to do with how we replace it.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share you food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer
with shelter –
when you see the naked, to clothe
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Isaiah 58: 6 – 7
Jesus reinforces this notion in the parable of the empty house or the seven spirits. (Luke 11:20-28 and Matthew 12) The house was swept clean of all “evil” things – yet it was not replaced with good and righteous things making it even more vulnerable to future attack. It’s not so much about what we give up; it’s more about how we replace it. If we “give up” something that steals our time and devotion to God, then we must replace it with something that draws us nearer to Him.
One of my greatest “thieves” is the idiocy of commercial television programming. While I don’t watch a lot of television, I do find it a time killer during these cold wintry days that keep me inside far too long. Excuse. The worst part is, there is very little worthy of watching. So as I watch, I complain about it. Easy solution. Turn it off. Limit it. And fill that time with something, “true, noble, right, pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
What am I giving up for Lent?
What am I replacing it with?
Prayer, more prep time for Wednesday night Bible Study, preparing meals to share with families going through a touch time, baking a batch of cookies to share with someone “just because”, sending those get well, birthday, and thinking of you cards that I always “intend” to send. And the list could go on.
Lord, help me to be less of me and more of You.
In his mercy and grace,
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10