A Hotly Debated Topic
Okay, the question of whether or not to give something up for Lent is not exactly at the top of the list of controversial issues facing our society today, but the subject can nevertheless spark intense arguments if dropped in the midst of the right (or wrong) group of people. I love Lent. For me it is always a time of deep personal growth. By the end of the forty days I end up being much more content with my life as I learn to look at the world in a fresh new way. It may sound odd, but it is really one of my favorites times of year.
I was not raised in a church that typically stressed giving something up for Lent, so every year when the season comes around I have to endure the inevitable conversation with my mom about why, exactly, I would choose to practice this archaic discipline. The fact that television is one of the things I always give up usually causes her to shake her head, roll her eyes, and say, "I'm sorry, but I think I'd have to pick something else to give up for Lent." Then there's my mother-in-law who, though she respects our choice and never criticizes us, still sometimes questions our Lenten traditions. I think she worries that we mistakenly believe we will go to hell if we don't observe this season of the liturgical year. The truth is that Lent is a very personal season, and everyone experiences it in a different way, if at all. The way I choose to observe it is important to me, and I'd like to take a few minutes to explain why.
Why Give Something Up for Lent?
Giving up something for Lent isn't about morality. It isn't about sin. It isn't about heaven or hell. It's about personal growth. I plan to spend the next few weeks writing about the various things I choose to give up, and how those things impact my life, but today I just want to talk about why giving something up is always such a good experience in my home. Here's how it works:
We all go about our daily lives, enjoying the good, enduring the bad, working, resting, and doing what we must in order to get through the day. Every now and then something comes along to make our lives either a little easier or a little more pleasant. That could be a new kitchen appliance that makes cooking a snap. It could be the Starbucks down the street where we go when we want to confuse coffee with dessert and enjoy every minute of it. It could the television that takes us away from reality at the end of a hard day. There's nothing bad about these things. When we give them up for Lent we are not saying that God doesn't want us to have pleasure in our lives. What we are saying is, "That thing has become a little too important to me, and I think it will do me good to avoid it for a while." And so we do. And then amazing things start to happen.
I don't know about everyone else, but I personally find the first week of Lent to be the most difficult. I would imagine other people have the same experience. That thing that we gave up is calling to is from the deepest reaches of our souls, and we don't really know what to do with ourselves without it. But gradually...oh so gradually...we start to realize that we don't really need that thing that once brought us so much pleasure. We eventually find that we are capable of being happy without that thing we had come to rely on so completely, and when we discover that, we come a step closer to finding true happiness in our lives.
Paying it Forward
Giving up something for Lent does amazing things for us, but this is also supposed to be a season for serving God by loving our neighbors as ourselves. I admit that this is an area where I have fallen short in the past. It's easier to retreat into my own little bubble than it is to actually go out and be God's hands and feet in the world. Maybe that is the next area of personal growth that I need to experience as I move forward on this Lenten journey. Maybe I will find my way by the time these forty days are over.
Remember to follow me on Twitter if you would like to follow me on my quest to draw a little closer to God this Lenten season.