What are you giving up for Lent? That question was asked in my home every year around this time. Here’s a typical conversation between siblings:
“I’m giving up oatmeal.” “You don’t even like oatmeal!” “ . . . um . . .”
Our aim was to give up something that we wouldn’t miss too much. How could we sacrifice something without really sacrificing? (Miss the point much?)
More than once in my youth, my Dad gave up smoking cigarettes for Lent. True story. For 40 days, he did not smoke. (46 if you include the Sundays, which we did) Sure enough, on Easter morning, we’d all file out to the station wagon in our new Easter clothes, and there was Dad, lighting up his first cigarette in over 6 weeks!
My siblings and our mother would be flummoxed! Why on earth would he give up smoking for 6 weeks and then start up again?! Surely he had gotten through the hardest part and was well on his way to quitting for good.
It was only recently that it occurred to me why he did this. My Dad enjoyed smoking. He didn’t give it up for Lent in order to get a head start on quitting forever. He didn’t give it up for his own health. To give up smoking for Lent was a sacrifice for him. It was hard. It was uncomfortable. It was a real sacrifice. My Dad “got it” in a way that my siblings and I, in our youthful understanding, did not.
“WHOEVER WANTS TO BE MY DISCIPLES MUST DENY THEMSELVES, TAKE UP THEIR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME.” MARK 8:34
Giving something up for Lent is exercising the discipline of abstinence. We fast from something in order to focus more intensely on Jesus and our relationship with Him. We let go of something, so we can lean into Jesus and seek Him with all our heart. We seek to recognize those things that perhaps are distractions to us in our longing for Jesus, who said, “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34
Another reason we may choose to give up something for Lent would be so we can identify with the sufferings of Jesus. Paul talks about this when he says, “For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ, we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering.” Romans 8:16 & 17
So we press in. It may mean giving something up or giving something back, or giving something away. It may mean trying a new spiritual discipline that will help to draw us closer to Jesus. However we observe Lent, may it be a time of self-examination and seeking Jesus Christ, who made the ultimate sacrifice for us when He gave His life on the cross.
O God, I admit it … I know nothing about self-denial.
I don’t know what to give up or how or why.
My whole life is about consuming and being consumed …
and I am deeply cynical about anything that diminishes
your desire for us to
And yet … I know that simplifying actually clarifies,
spring cleaning sweeps away the junk
and garbage that weighs me down,
eliminating distraction puts me in touch with what I most deeply want –
which is you and your life changing Wind blowing unencumbered through my life.
O God, lead me in the letting go of anything that distracts,
numbs, keeps me jumbled on the inside.
Guide me into uncluttered rooms
and wide-open spaces where I can meet you.
Poem by Ruth Haley Barton
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
Where in your life might you have moved away from God? Is there something that you are holding back from Him?
How can you move in closer to Him? Is there a spiritual discipline or a practice you can incorporate into your day to help you stay focused on Jesus?
In what way do you hope to change as you travel through the journey of Lent and into Easter?
written by Lt. Colonel Patricia LaBossiere, Assistant Training Principal for Ministry Development, CFOT, USA East