What did you give up for Lent?
Has anyone asked you this? Have you asked someone that question?
In comparison to those who grew up in churches observing Lent, I am a relative newcomer to season of Lent and the fast that many Christians observe during the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. It started for me about 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate it and find that the time has become very helpful in my own journey of faith.
But, there’s something about that question that bothers me. It’s the two words at the very end: “for Lent.”
Fasting is encouraged in Scripture. In fact, Jesus taught his disciples how to fast. In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus instructed them, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.” What is the purpose of the Lenten fast? Let’s be honest, we are temped to take pleasure in other people’s pity for us!
“You are giving up chocolate for Lent? Whoa!”
“No television for the entire time? No way!”
And so, when we say, “For Lent, I’m giving up…” a very common way of talking betrays an all too familiar spiritual trap that disciples fall into. The good deed becomes the end in and of itself. Instead of giving up television so that I can spend more time with Jesus, Lent becomes this contest or parade of abstinence and suffering. Worse, it becomes motivation to diet and enhance myself.
People of the promise have counted the cost of following Jesus. They have walked away from all the false promises of riches, good needs, recognition, popularity, education, social standing, or whatever ash-faced god that betrays their heart’s true desire.
The Bible traces our spiritual lineage back to Father Abraham. If we are the people of the promise, then Abraham is the father of us all. He went first. He believed that God would give him a son. He obeyed God all the way to the Mount of Moriah, his long awaited son following him.
“Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you,” says God to Father Abraham. Like Stephen, Abraham emerges out of total obscurity in human history and right in to the heart of God’s promise. “ will surely bless you,” God informs Abraham, “and I will…multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore,” (Genesis 22:17).
Abraham gave up his place and his people, was willing to give up his son, to take hold of the promise God made to him. Instead of thinking that you have given up something for a religious season, think of your fasting as a way of turning down the noise of all other would-be promises.
“Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10).