That was what I overheard this last week but not in those exact words. The actual words sounded much more admirable, couched in lightheartedness with lots of spiritual talk inserted between the lines. “I’m giving up something that has been bothering me,” is closer to what I actually heard.
This encounter launched me into questioning why many Christians participate in Lent. Ideally, it should be a time of deeper contemplation about God and more focused prayer. Most say that this is what they plan on doing, but for many, life and old habits make it hard for them to execute and they merely pull off the external. As a result, I think many focus on the giving up of a thing as some sort of offering of their devotion, hoping that the mere act of doing so will draw them closer to God.
I’m not practicing Lent this time around as I just finished a fast from three things that have been a part of my life every day (mostly) for the last three years. As a result, Lent this year seemed anti-climactic to me, so I’m skipping it.
Despite passing on the tradition this year, I found myself unsettled by the typical practice of Lent, sparked by that person’s comments. The thought that Christians are offering up sin as a spiritual sacrifice, bothered me.
The top 100 things people give up for Lent based on Twitter feeds can be summarized in these five:
1. Food-specifically sweets, chocolate and soda
2. Drink-Alcohol in its many varied forms
3. Screens-Twitter, Facebook and TV
It seems a bit sacrilegious to me that we offer up for Lent what is essentially all of our failed New Year’s Eve resolutions. Still, sin hasn’t yet entered the picture.
More distressing, I noticed a tendency among some to commit to fast from things they were inwardly convicted of.
Granted, the things we pick to give up for Lent are usually not blatant sins like pride, vanity, envy or the like. We usually zero in on those ‘gray’ areas that have been bothering our consciences. Things that are otherwise benign activities that we have managed to corrupt with our motives or practice. We pick stuff we want to wean ourselves away from because we can’t in good conscience continue in it, thus it is not done in faith. In essence, it is sin to us.
Not everyone I know picks something they are convicted about. Many just pick something that would be hard because they love it and yet, are not enslaved to it. Only the individual can honestly assess that.
Is it wrong to pick a sin as the object of what we abstain from in the name of fasting? I’ll let you pray about that and come to your own conclusions concerning yourself. There is nothing in the Scriptures that would point one way or another that I know of, so this is left to your conscience.
Yet, I need to remind myself, that the point of Lent (or fasting in general) is not self-improvement.
Observe Lent with prayer and fasting but choose what you fast from wisely. If you use the season to jump-start your obedience, nothing lost; you’ll probably benefit more than someone who picked something meaningless to abstain from. Just be careful how you posture yourself during the fast. It is not a sacrifice, nor some holy denial, it is something you needed to do anyways.