As we enter this season of Lent I am reminded of the old adage, "I am giving it up for Lent". It is very common for people during this time to decide to "give" something up for the forty days that precede Easter. It is a symbolic act that encourages an individual to abstain from some act or item in response to penitence and inner reflection during Lent. Some give up chocolate or caffeine, smoking or swearing, or, perhaps my favorite, sinning!
I don't want you to think that I am making fun of these people or their attempts to experience Lent in a new and powerful way. I am most certainly not! I have found acts such as these very helpful in my journey home. I have experienced God in a transforming way during my times of fasting and prayer. So, do I think that "giving something up for Lent" is a worthwhile spiritual endeavor? Of course I do. But, I do think that we miss the mark of the true purpose of the Lenten season.
Lent, as defined by WIKIPEDIA!, is the period of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Lent is a time of sacrifice for Jesus. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, repentance, alms giving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Those are big words that simply mean we are called to examine our hearts and minds and are encouraged to seek out a more holy and faithful life. So, my disappointment comes when we use these forty days to suffer through the agony and withdrawal of whatever we have decided to "give up" and then, at the culmination of Easter we "pick up" once again whatever it is that we have "given up".
Why is it that we can only muster up enough spiritual fortitude to change our habits for forty days? Is there something that says if we suffer for forty days we have then earned the right to resume certain behaviors? There is no doubt that, let's say, fasting is a spiritual exercise of great importance. I realize that, at some point, you are going to have to resume eating! But why is that when we choose to put down the chocolate bar for forty days we think we have earned enough spiritual points to pick it back up again? Perhaps we have cheapened the purpose of Lent and let the world dictate to us that, if we give it up for Lent, it's okay for the other 325 days of the year!
My encouragement for you during this season of Lent is to define that which is in your life which keeps your relationship with God from growing and then eliminate it. Take some serious time to examine your life. What is it in my life that keeps me from experiencing God in a real and transforming way? What are the things that I need to "give up" so that my relationship with God can grow? How can this season of Lent become real in my life?
I believe that if we take a moment to realize that there is power in the Lenten season then, perhaps, we will be more serious regarding those things we "give up". I pray that these forty days will encourage you in your walk with Christ. May this season of Lent be a turning point on your journey home!