The church I grew up in didn’t put much emphasis on Lent.
The church I’ve grown in the last nine years puts lots ‘o’ emphasis on Lent.
But what is giving stuff up for forty days actually for?
Good question. And a fuzzy answer if you don’t go digging, because as Christians we will bemoan at brunch how we gave up Starbucks or sweets, we’ll tell our Instagram followers how hard it is to go without Netflix, and we’ll stare with searing judgement at the pal eating prime rib on a Friday. BUT WHAT ARE WE GIVING STUFF UP FOR? And how did we decide that God cares if we spend a few weeks not slurping soda?
Here’s the thing.
I’m not giving anything up for Lent this year.
“‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” Joel 2:12-13
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18
I struggle already with a very legalistic, albeit well-intentioned, upbringing. There is an ever-running checklist in my head and heart to not tip the scales towards disappointing God past the point of return. I’m always looking for the equation to earn His answers, blessings, presence, and favor. It can be debilitating on the days it seems I can’t ‘DO’ enough.
When our church body participated in the Daniel Fast last year, I would get very upset at the ‘cheaters’ who drank a cup of coffee in the morning. For ten days I ate only fruits, vegetables, and water. Afterward people asked over and over what blessing or benefit I’d experienced and I didn’t have an answer. I responded with “I guess discipline itself is the blessing.”
As I read through scripture and compare it to the millennial believers I know who are not eating / watching / sipping something specific for the weeks leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I have to ask? Does God care about what you’re not eating / watching / sipping or DOES HE CARE ABOUT YOUR HEART?
I read a great article that explained Lent this way:
“Lent is an intensely penitential time as we examine our sinful natures and return to the God we have, through our own rebelliousness, hurt time and again. Lent is also an opportunity to contemplate what our Lord really did for us on the Cross – and it wasn’t pretty. But ultimately, the purpose of Lent does not stop at sadness and despair – it points us to the hope of the Resurrection and the day when every tear will be dried.”
With that in mind, I’d encourage you and me to spend time every day sitting in the meditation on what Christ actually did for us in these days leading up to His glorious resurrection! He, fully God, put on skin and became fully man. Walked among us without sin despite temptation from the devil Himself. He was tortured by trained monsters. He cried and bled and died so that the sin we CHOOSE over HIM would be covered and so that our selfish broken selves COULD SPEND ETERNITY WITH HIM. Oh the love! I don’t have enough words for it! The sacrifice… the pain… the grace… the hope.
That’s where I need to spend forty days (and so many more) focused and repentant.
Giving up my daily iced soy chai latte isn’t going to get me closer to His heart, it isn’t going to grieve my spirit, it isn’t going to bend my knees and bow my head and open my mouth to cry out in praise and confession.
This year, maybe let’s give up the giving-up-for-no-reason and instead give up our equations, checklists, and shallow sacrifices.
Let’s give up our desire to earn His favor and bask in the grace that it’s already been given for eternity.