Here’s a question that I’ve been asked many times over the years, but I’ve never had an answer for it:
“What are you giving up for Lent?”
To tell you the truth, I’ve never celebrated Lent. I grew up in the Baptist (meaning black Baptist – the clapping, shouting and gospel wing of the Baptist folks). My family also spent a few years in a Pentacostal church, too. In short, I grew up “Bapti-cost.”
In fact, I didn’t know anything about Lent until I attended junior high school. Classmates would disappear mid-morning on some random Wednesday in February. Now, during my growing years, the pastors talked A LOT about the rapture. Anytime I couldn’t find someone, I tended to get a little nervous…
Anywho, those classmates returned around lunchtime with a dark smudge on their forehead and with a solemn look on their face. It took me FOREVER to work up the nerve to point and ask, “So, what’s going on that?”
Back in the day, this is all my friends told me:
- We can’t eat meat on Fridays.
- We have to give up something that we really like.*
For my classmates, Lent drilled down to a long, miserable season of “I can’t…”
Is that how you feel about Lent? Are you now trapped in 40 days of “I can’t…”?
While I may not share your Lenten experiences, I regularly observe the spiritual discipline of fasting. When you think about it, Lent is just an organized, formalized expression of fasting. And as one who fasts, I share your “I can’t” Lenten struggles.
We HATE voluntarily saying “no” to something that we always say “yes” to. There’s a loud voice inside of our heads that objects to voluntary self-restraint. As soon as we make our Lenten or fasting commitment, we think that we’ll die without the thing we’re giving up. Maybe not die, but we’re going to be so miserable! If we’re being honest, we’re a little miffed at God for making us into give up stuff. Like it’s His fault that we have to do it. And, when people ask what we’re giving up, how often do we share our hostage-like sacrifice with a little sigh:
“I can’t have chocolate.”
“I can’t go shopping.”
“I can’t be on Facebook.”
“I can’t go out on Friday nights.”
Whatever comes after “I can’t” is often an indicator of what we love and value a little more than God. I’m not saying that you love chocolate more than God, but do you love indulging yourself over showing self-restraint? You may not love television more than God, but how often does television or the Internet hijack your prayer or Bible study?
What we sacrifice often reveals our spiritual struggle.
Recently, my church finished a 28-day fast in January. I decided that I would give up desserts. I LOVE DESSERT. Love, love, love, love, love dessert.
Guess what? As soon as I said that I would give up dessert, I got mad that I wouldn’t be able to have dessert. Pitiful, I know. Dessert really isn’t any big deal, but my first-world heart has become accustomed to having whatever it wants. I don’t like to eat one cookie. I like to eat lots of cookies. If you ever offer me a cookie, I hope you have a few more just in case…
Lent and fasting are all about teaching our hearts and minds to submit to God’s way of life in us. When we choose to give up something that we love for a season, we give ourselves space to strategically practice submitting to God. The more we practice submission, the less we feel terrorized by the pressure of our internal wants and desires.
Here’s a great question to ask yourself: What becomes possible when we give up something for Lent?**
Instead of focusing on the “I can’t…” of Lent or fasting, we have the incredible opportunity to transform our thinking into “I can connect…”
Think about what you’ve chosen to give up. What if during the next 40 days, you gave God that space and let Him fill it? What if the absence of that thing actually filled you with more time to connect more with God or others? Imagine the possibilities!
When I gave up desserts, each time I felt a desire for dessert, I made the choice to connect with God. I changed careers in January, so I needed to pray more. I faced some tremendous personal challenges as of late, so I needed more of God’s wisdom and peace.
Instead of looking for comfort from a sugary, creamy treat, I chose to find comfort in God. So, I prayed A LOT in January…and I lost quite a few pounds, too!
In giving up something that I loved, I gained something that I needed most: God.
What are you giving up for Lent this year? Instead of focusing on “I can’t” during this Lenten’s season, what opportunities do you have to connect with God or your family and friends more during this season? Share your Lenten memories and your suggestions that might help others in the comments.
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- This question was inspired by a similar question that leadership guru, Michael Hyatt often asks when individuals are struggling or suffering through hardship.