Let’s Give It Up for Lent

Image Copyright jezobeljonesWhile I was working on my MA, Lent was a point of contention around campus. Some students thought it was a good idea while others reacted against it. Some said quite frankly that it was “too Catholic” and others had different reservations. The school paper even did an article on it, and I specifically remember one student who was opposed to Evangelicals celebrating Lent. He said, “People just use Lent as an excuse to give up things they should be giving up anyway.”

I never understood that argument. I would think that an extra bit of motivation to do something that really ought to be done would be a good thing. Am I the confused one here?

Either way, I was pondering this again lately with Ash Wednesday looming, and I wondered. What if we used Lent to give up things that we normally don’t think of but maybe ought to give up? It’s easy (well, maybe not that easy) to give up meat or chocolate for six weeks, or at least those are easy to think of. Many people take on things like regular, disciplined prayer times or Bible reading plans, and given that Jesus’ time in the desert was one of taking on as well as giving something up, this is perfectly reasonable. I wondered, though. Could there be some less obvious things that the Spirit might be calling us to fast from?

Could Lent be a time to give up saying yes to too many things and taking on too much? Or maybe the reverse: giving up saying no to too much and ending up blocking what the Spirit is inviting you into? Maybe God is calling you to give up not speaking up and be honest about what you think and feel, even when it makes you anxious. Or perhaps the invitation is to give up apologizing for yourself and risk that God and people might accept and even love you where you’re at. Or to give up a habit of avoiding how you and your world really feel and honestly and openly look at these things in the presence of a caring Father.

We all do things out of fear or pride or because we think we have or are supposed to. Could one of those be something that Lent might be a time to give up for a bit? If you spent 20 minutes talking with God, what might He say to you and call you to?

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4 responses

  1. soulsimple

    I have enjoyed reading through your various posts, but this one really caught my attention.

    As I am currently in the midst of my own very intentional Lenten experience, I did not want to miss a chance to affirm the approach that you are suggesting we take when we look at our church calendars. Lent might be an opportunity for people to ask God more questions. As you suggest here, why not ask God what the Lenten invitation might be? Why not offer oneself as a living sacrifice instead of turning the 40 days into a new diet plan (been there and done that) or a place to become spiritually superior (in our own minds at least).

    This year I have been so encouraged as I simply put myself in a place to listen to God more often. In doing so, it increased my appetite for more of God which helped me to give up some time consuming activities that were less life giving.

    These “less obvious things of the Spirit” that you allude to are just that, less obvious. Just like the last days of Jesus ministry when He was constantly telling the disciples exactly what was coming, Jesus still speaks to us. But do we miss the point like the disciples were prone to do? I know for me that the answer is yes.

    You give some very practical and creative suggestions for making something that can become religious in a hurry become instead very practical and spiritual.

    Shalom,
    Amy P

    April 1, 2012 at 2:58 am

    • Thank you, Amy.
      As I noted on your blog, I’m not sure I fully took my own advice for my Lenten practice, but God knows what He is about. I think there’s a tendency to codify the spiritual disciplines into specific practices when our hearts are really in need of something more personal and fitting and less packaged or generic. That’s more difficult, I think, but who said life was supposed to be easy? Jesus said His yoke was easy, but that’s still a plow you’re dragging behind you! And while more personal disciplines may be more difficult to figure out and follow through with in some ways, they can also become more freeing in the end. It might be harder to make a yoke that fits you than to grab one off the shelf, but it won’t rub so much, and you might just get more plowing done.

      But now I’ve wandered off into a metaphor. Good to hear that my words are finding a home with at least one or two folk.

      April 1, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      • soulsimple

        Matthew
        As codified as they may become, spiritual disciplines are still a bridge between the life we live under the sleepy-Christian-pop-culture and the yoke in the Spirit we are promised will be easy and light. So I imagine, continuing your metaphor, that when we put on a yoke that Jesus would have worn in our place like praying, fasting, meditating, serving, etc… that even if we have to pull a plow behind us, the soil is still rich, the planting conditions are perfect, the sun shines on us but never burns, and the rains will come in perfect time.

        I am trying to see what you mean exactly by personal disciplines and specific practices? Can it be both/and or does it have to be either or?

        Thoughtfully,
        Amy P

        April 2, 2012 at 2:12 am

      • Amy,
        Sure, spiritual disciplines are very useful tools, but like any tool, they can be used in inappropriate ways. (Pardon me while I suddenly switch metaphors.) There’s a tendency in contemporary spiritual formation circles to imply that spiritual disciplines cause growth and are the key to maturity, a tendency that I’m quite leery of, so I’m sometimes a little more harsh on disciplines than is perhaps warranted.

        But regarding personal vs. pre-packaged disciplines, I’m referring to things like the classical disciplines – fasting, study, prayer, worship, etc. – as opposed to practices specifically crafted for one’s own soul and character like those I suggested above – saying yes or no more often, paying attention to one’s emotions, not immediately jumping up to help at every instance, staying present when in the midst of others’ suffering, etc. The classical disciplines can be of great use when applied properly and in the right spirit and motivation. More personalized disciplines can sometimes be more apropos despite the extra effort they can take.

        Does that make sense?

        April 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm

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