"So, What are You Giving up for Lent??"
Many Christians celebrated Ash Wednesday yesterday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the time in the Christian year when we remember the brokenness in our lives and in our world. We walk through the proverbial desert time of fasting and penance, and prepared to be witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday.
The big question on the lips of many Christians at this time of the year is often, "So, what are you giving up for Lent?" Lent is often marked as a season by the somewhat curious habit of many Christians to “give something up.” People give up all sorts of various things ranging from eating chocolates to playing video games. I personally tried giving up coffee once, and I was grumpy for weeks. My point is that sometimes I wonder whether many people really understand the Lenten custom of "giving something up" or just use it for an occasion to brag.
What most people are really doing when they "give up something for Lent" is attempting to engage in a spiritual discipline and not a fast. Just giving something up is not really a fast in itself. Giving up something can be good for you; it can teach you the virtues of trusting that God will see you through your trials of missing whatever you are foregoing. Giving up something can even teach you that by God's grace you can live without the material thing(s) with which you are addicted.
A fast is something a bit different, however. While a spiritual discipline is giving up something and seeing what you learn about yourself from that exercise, a fast is actively seeking God while you are giving up something. If I am fasting, then the time I would otherwise be using to eat that particular food or waste time on Facebook is actively devoted to searching for God in some tangible way like taking time to pray or read the bible or engage in some good work.
The Church over the centuries has built up the season of Lent (and originally Advent as well) to help us examine our selves, our souls, and bodies, to help re-center ourselves in Christ. Lent is a time when we intentionally look at where we are in our walk with God. Are there things done or left undone to which we need to attend, or are there things that have distanced us from God?
I urge you, therefore, to chose a spiritual discipline or a fast to do this Lenten season if you have not already chosen to do so. It is never too late to start. Even if you have already decided on a course of action, do not do it in vain. Allow God's grace to lead you through that discipline or fast. Actively seek God while you are abstaining or taking up a new discipline in whatever form it might be. We do this not for the sake of performing a duty because we have to or to boast of our self-sacrifice, but so that we together might invite God into some small space in our lives so that Christ can invite us into the work of God’s dream.