Why Taking On May Be Better For You Than Giving Up This Lent
When I was in seminary, a classmate of mine decided to give up beer for Lent. It’s not that he had a drinking problem he was trying to address, he just really liked beer and thought that giving it up was his best bet to to test his discipline and commitment. It was not easy. This was Boston and St. Patrick’s Day fell right in the middle of Lent that year. Plus several classmates were amateur brewers and were always coming up with a new concoction that just begged to be tasted.
At the end of Lent, I asked him how it went. He said, “You know, I thought giving up something I loved would bring me closer to God, but I just spent 40 days thinking ‘I wish I had a beer.'”
His experience is not unique. Many people choose to give up something they really enjoy during the season leading up to Easter and find that, rather than make them more spiritual or Christlike, the discipline just made them cranky and frustrated. So what are we supposed to do with Lent?
The season of Lent was instituted by the Council of Nicea in 325, and it was to be a time of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter. Just how much fasting and prayer is to be done during the 40 day (minus Sundays) period has waxed and waned over time and varied by culture. In modern time, rather than fasting for a day or a string of days, people have found other things to give up. Why do we give things up? It depends on who you ask.
Some say that because Christ sacrificed for us, we should also know sacrifice. Somehow I don’t think that giving up chocolate for 40 days results in suffering equivalent to crucifixion.
Others think it’s about removing those things that keep us from turning to God. For example, if you turn to a pint of Ben and Jerry’s overtime you are stressed or worried, giving that up might force you to look to God for some support and strength.
But the heart of Lent is preparation. Preparing our hearts and our bodies and our minds for Easter. For the resurrection. It’s a chance to repent, which in the Greek means to “turn around.” It’s our chance to shift away from those things that are keeping us from being the people God has called us to be and turn toward the life God wants for us.
Giving up red meat and red wine may demonstrate impressive discipline, but when Lent is over, where will your abstinence have gotten you?
This Lent, consider taking on a discipline. I know, you already have a bazillion things going on and idea of “taking on” something else doesn’t seem do-able. But what if the something that you take on makes your life richer and fuller rather than simply busier. Here are some ideas:
Pray and prioritize: Start everyday with a prayer and a few minutes to prioritize the things that need to get done that day, so the things most important to you get taken care of first.
Call and Care: Commit to calling someone on the phone everyday just to see how they are doing and to listen to how their life is going. When you hang up, take a moment and pray for that person. (alternative: send an actual snail mail card to someone every day)
A Family Meal every day: Commit to eating together as a family at least once every day. It may mean getting up earlier for breakfast or having dinner later, but it can be done!
Move Your Body: Make a point of getting some kind of exercise everyday and be present to what an awesome and amazing vessel your body is.
Lent can be a time that you are good to yourself and to God by choosing a discipline that turns you and keeps you headed in the right direction as you journey toward Easter.