Doing Lent without Giving Up Something
I could fund an orphanage if I had a quarter for every time I heard someone proudly declare that they were giving up chocolate, soda, liquor, cigarettes, or carbs for Lent. Better yet, I could fund two if had a quarter for each aghast look I get when I tell them I (a minister no less) am not giving up anything! Judgment runs down their faces like rain. It seems as if we have forgotten God’s words to Isaiah: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand?”
The purpose of Lent is not to improve our physical health by increasing our exercise or curbing our wanton diet. The purpose of Lent is to take stock of our spiritual health and then adapt (or begin) our spiritual practice to improve our relationship with God and thus one another. It is a time of reflection and introspection on our relationship with Jesus, not Doritos or M&M’s. From my experience, simply drying out from a sugar, alcohol, or salt addiction does nothing for my spiritual fitness. In fact, most of the time it makes it worse as I am either so self-righteously proud of my accomplishments or plunged into the depths of unworthiness by my failures that Jesus doesn’t even enter into the picture.
An additional pitfall is the tradition of giving up _______ every year for Lent! It takes only a year or two for this annual ritual to become “just what I do” rather than something that invites creativity and authentic need. For several years now, I forgot how many, I removed any regular jewelry that I wore daily. I limited myself to my watch, a plain cross, and purple (the color for Lent) earrings from Ash Wednesday until Easter. This was a reminder to me that I was to live more simply… and I confess that I experienced an additional joy on Easter morning when I put them back on. However while it provided some superficial benefit during the 46 days of Lent, in actuality it did nothing for deeper and longer lasting spiritual growth. Did I become closer to Jesus because I wore less jewelry? Not by a long shot.
This year I am committing myself to journal each day. No, I will not do it perfectly as it will require daily effort (which was lacking with my jewelry abstinence). And that too is a spiritual growth… God does not require our perfection but our practice. When I miss a day… as I most certainly will, I will not allow the excuse of perfection to derail me. I will just go and grow with it. So NO, I am not giving up anything for Lent – except perhaps the most precious and limited resource I have: my time and heartfelt attention.
I invite you to join me as we make this Lenten journey together…. I’ll even share my M&M’s!