Today is Ash Wednesday, the first Day of Lent. All across the Globe, folks are participating in the season of Lent by attending special church services and, in all likelihood, “giving up something for Lent”. Traditionally, this requires some sort of fasting activity, and its purpose is to bring to mind Jesus’ forty days of fasting while roaming in the wilderness just prior to beginning his ministry; as well as to join us in solidarity with him as we recall that Jesus, too, was continually tempted by evil during this time and other times in his life. Just as Jesus relied on his Father to deliver him from those periods of trial; so we, too, must rely on God to give us strength in our own struggles. Obviously, this is something we should do every single day of our lives, but the Lenten period serves as a yearly, focused reminder that we’re probably failing miserably in this regard and need to get back on track. Is it any wonder, too, that the beginning of this period is the day after Mardi Gras; arguably one of the most self-indulgent days of the year for many?
Frankly, for most of us, making the connection between giving up something for a month and a half to trusting in God is a stretch. For many, this can turn into a silly, if not pointless activity. “How can giving up (fill in the blank) bring me closer to God?”
Good question, and one which I believe can be answered by “It depends on whether you take it seriously” and “It depends on what you give up”.
I’ve only recently returned to this practice of fasting. I remember half-heartedly going through the motions when I was a teenager but I’m almost certain I never made it through Lent without eating a chocolate bar or chewing a piece of bubble gum or arguing with my mother. This is not to say that young people today cannot take Lent seriously; I just wasn’t ready to do so when I was 16 years old. Heck, I wasn’t ready to take anything seriously when I was 16 years old. In later years, I never remotely considered attempting a fast during Lent because nothing to do with God or Jesus or religion or anything at all of that nature was on my radar screen. In the spring of 2012, I was finally ready to take it seriously. WHY that was the case is another long story covered elsewhere in this Blog (see He'll Meet You Wherever You Are )
I don’t think I need to spend much time explaining what I think taking something seriously means, but just to cover that base for a moment; if I am going to do something; to commit myself to a person, a relationship, a vocation, an activity, an event; I always ponder long and hard before I do so. Perhaps not everyone does this to the degree I do, however, I have to believe that most people have at least one or two areas in their lives that they are quite serious about and very committed to. If you can’t wrap your mind around the seriousness of participating in fasting for Lent, I’m not sure you should even bother to attempt it. In my opinion, someone going through the motions without any true desire to grow from the experience risks hypocrisy.
Taking it seriously, then, should lead a person to give up something meaningful. So, what should it be? There are plenty of folks that use this period of time to commit to giving up a bad habit, and I personally think that’s just fine because it’s an excellent opportunity to be reminded how we should rely on God to see us through the challenges and the temptations. And, as an added bonus, if a person can successfully eliminate whatever the bad habit or behavior is during this forty or so days, they've made big strides and will probably be able to maintain this success after Lent is over. They will also be in good company with others during this time, a huge, ready-made support group, who will also be struggling through their own particular trials. Yes, sometimes misery does love AND NEED company.
But what about those who may not have an obvious bad habit or behavior? There is a story in the Bible about a rich young man who, upon hearing about all of the wonderful things Jesus was teaching and doing and also observing the band of Disciples surrounding Jesus who were both following him and learning from him; approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to get in on this game, to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus initially told him “the basics”; love God, obey the commandments and the laws. The young man was really happy and pleased with himself because he was already doing all of this. But Jesus went on. “Sell all of your possession, give the money to the poor and follow me”. Oops. Not what the young man wanted to hear, so he walked away, feeling sad and sorry for himself. My reason for bringing up this story is that Jesus looks into each of our hearts and sees what we need to give up in order to truly follow him. Circling back to us giving up something for Lent, it could be something different every year or perhaps the same darn thing that remains a stumbling block in our faith-walk. Whatever the case, there is something for everyone.
My guess is, after prayerful consideration and perhaps some nudges from the Holy Spirit, you may already have a pretty good idea of what it should be. Remember. It’s not something simple, just ask the rich young man. If you find yourself toying with the idea of giving up something you don’t even do in the first place (in my case that would be watching T.V.) or something you don’t have any sort of problem not doing (for me that would be smoking) or some activity you are already not doing due to your life circumstance (in my husband’s case that would be sleeping because he’s a CPA and it’s tax season), then I suggest you circle back to the “take it seriously” part before proceeding any further.
Up Next: Give and Take