What are you going to give up for Lent? Ash Wednesday can sneak up on us and suddenly you are IN Lent WITHOUT a plan! If you find yourself flatfooted on the first of 40 days intended for fasting and spiritual preparation, hopefully I can point you to some better questions to ask yourself.
Instead of asking what you should give up for Lent and then shrugging your shoulders and swearing off chocolate, let’s take a different approach. There are a few Lenten pitfalls I have to mention. First of all, the invitation to the Lenten fast points us to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:1-6 where he directs his followers to give to the poor, pray, and fast rightly. His advice is perfect and should our primary guide. Secondly, Lent is not a time to finally kick a bad habit. If you have unhealthy habits like smoking, quit separately from Lent. Anything you give up for Lent should be something that you can gladly take up again in celebration on Sundays (when fasting is discouraged). And finally, Lent is not a record setting challenge. There are no awards at the end for a consistent 40 day streak. You WILL fail and part of the grace of the Lenten season is repenting and returning, asking for God’s strength in your weakness.
Here are five questions you can ask yourself today in stead of asking what am I going to give up for Lent?
How can I become more human?
You are a creature, a human being created in the image of God to partner with him in his good work on the earth. You were made to sleep, eat, work, play, and worship. Are any of those things missing or unbalanced in your life? Consider what is dehumanizing you. Sleeping 5 hours a night? Eating meals standing over the kitchen sink? Rushing from place to place? How can you live in the grace of God given to his beloved creatures by embracing your humanness?
How can I open my days to new practices?
Anyone who has read a time management book or strategized how to get more things done in a day has probably made an ill-fated attempt to master all the hours in a day. Surely you can shuffle essential things around to prioritize an hour of prayer and Bible reading for the next 40 days. I don’t know about you but I probably CANNOT. What if instead you introduced smaller practices into your day that are linked to the the building blocks of your day? Could you work on memorizing a Bible verse on your bathroom mirror while you brush your teeth? Or pray the Daily Office over breakfast? Or spend a few minutes on the Examen when you get into bed at night? These aren’t heroic spiritual measures that take an hour each — instead they are small practices that are easier to keep consistently over time.
How can I give generously from the excess of my fast?
In Isaiah 58 fasting and generosity to the poor and oppressed are linked. In Isaiah’s day the food that you would have eaten on a religious fast day should be given to those who are in need. People had much less and lived in smaller communities so it was simpler to make a 1:1 connection between fasting and giving. What would it look like for your fasting to result in giving? You could cancel Netflix and Hulu and give the value of those subscriptions away to an organization that serves a group in need. You could even give your time to pray for them or serve with them.
How can I create more contrast in my life?
We live in a culture of such incredible abundance that it is sometimes difficult to make a distinction between seasons of feasting and fasting. I can basically have anything I want any time I want, which is a distinctly modern American problem. My ancestors didn’t eat butter, eggs, and meat during Lent because they were fasting but also because they had to save them up in the larder in order to have a full, rich pantry in order to create an Eastertide banquet. Are there ways you can create more contrast between your fasting and feasting days visually or in your diet or in your activities. What can you “save up” today in order to make Eastertide a rich feast?
How can I rekindle my first love?
The practice of taking on spiritual disciplines in preparation for Easter comes from an early church practice required of catechumens who were preparing for baptism on Easter Sunday. Eventually whole congregations would join in the Lenten preparations as a way of returning to their first love in the days when they initially followed Jesus and were baptized. Lent is always a season of renewal and return to our first love. What do you remember about your relationship with God from the early days of your Christian life? Though you have grown and matured, some of those things remain the same. How can you rekindle your first love during Lent so that by journeying with Jesus through this season you come to Easter morning more like him.