What are you giving up for Lent?
This was a familiar question in my college dorm, back in the “Jesus Freak 70s.” As a child growing up in a Catholic neighborhood (my non-religious family stuck out like a group of Hari Krishnas at a bar mitzvah), I remember all my friends forgoing meat from Ash Wednesday until Easter. Fish sticks appeared on the school cafeteria menu while brown-baggers munched peanut butter or tuna sandwiches day after day.
Somewhere along the line, non-Catholic believers decided that giving up meat wasn’t the only option. We could fast anything, as long as it had some spiritual impact on our lives. Some of my college friends gave up sugar, while others unplugged their stereos. Bring that concept into the 21st century, and we might have signed off Facebook for the duration, or stopped playing video games.
Of course, some Christians don’t fast during Lent at all. It’s pretty much a personal decision, between us and God.
Over the years, I’ve tended to fall into that last group. Observing Lent never really entered my mind. However Glenn Packiam, a pastor I highly respect, wrote a thought-provoking article about why we should observe Lent.
As he points out, fasting during Lent mirrors Moses’ 40-day fast on the mountain while he was receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). Elijah fasted for 40 days before calling Elisha (in 1 Kings 19:7). And Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert before beginning His ministry. I had never considered that Lent might have a Biblical basis.
Glenn also reminded me of why we should fast in the first place:
Like any other occasion of fasting, the goal is to let go of things in our lives that are not inherently harmful or destructive in order to give our attention to Christ in a special way. … It is a way of preparing us to live in perpetual Easter—the life of Christ springing up anew in us as we lay down and let go of control and selfishness.
He has convinced me to give it a try. And in case you haven’t noticed, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.
The next question is, what should I fast? I could imitate the three men mentioned above and stop eating entirely. I know people who have done that—no food for 40 days. I could…. Maybe I’m just not spiritual enough, but I’m going to pass on this opportunity.
I could go the traditional route and eschew meat. But meat doesn’t really matter that much to me. I’m just as happy eating a salad as I am a cow. I already avoid sugar, so that won’t work. Maybe I need something that will truly free up time that I can devote to prayer and Biblical meditation. Maybe I need to give up…
You fill in the blank. I know what God is speaking to me about. Nothing bad, nothing destructive, just… unnecessary. I’ll probably struggle at first, which is good. I don’t want to make this too easy. My goal during this season is to know God better. Hopefully, the amazing gift of the resurrection will become even more personal to me. If so, I’ll be sure to write about what I’ve learned.
Are you celebrating Lent this year? What is God asking you to let go of? What do you hope to accomplish by your fast?