Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
It seems like lately my Facebook newsfeed has filled up with pictures and posts about what different people have given up for Lent. The practice of giving something up for Lent comes from the ancient custom of Lent being a time of preparation for baptism, when fasting would be required. It has morphed and changed through the centuries, but the enduring practices of Lent still include prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.
The Lenten fast has been observed with various levels of strictness: abstaining from meat on certain days, eating one meal a day instead of two or three, and, perhaps the most common in America today, giving up various “vices.” These might be coffee, or chocolate, or alcohol. Some might choose to give the money they would spend on these things to charity instead. Others might choose to add a practice to their routine: extra time for prayer or devotion, committing to going the gym, or making it a point to spend time with family or friends.
Sometimes it can seem like Lent is the second chance for many of our New Year’s Resolutions, which are already faltering by mid-February. The thing that differentiates Lenten disciplines, however, is that they are done with the specific purpose of drawing us into a closer and deeper relationship with God. Unlike New Year’s resolutions, which often focus on self improvement (and can impact our lives in meaningful ways), the motivation behind Lenten disciplines is to focus on God, not ourselves.
If giving something up helps you in that journey of renewal—that’s fantastic! It is part of an ancient practice which is still meaningful for us today. If it doesn’t work for you (and I must admit, it has never been particularly helpful in my own life), try and find some practice that does. There is a great opportunity to come to St. Paul’s on Wednesday evenings for worship and fellowship—a time to stop and pause in an otherwise busy week.
Above all, I think it is important to remember the purpose of our Lenten disciplines, whatever they may be. It is to help draw us closer to the God who deeply desires a close relationship with us. It is not about feeling guilty if we accidently have that chocolate bar, or forget to read the devotional we’re working through. It is not about the practices themselves, but the God that practices point us to.
David Lose, president of the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia, talks about Lenten practices this way: “The ‘sacrifices,’ the disciplines, are not intended as good works offered by us to God; rather, they are God’s gifts to us to remind us who we are, God’s adopted daughters and sons, God’s treasure, so priceless that God was willing to go to any length — or, more appropriately, to any depth — to tell us that we are loved, that we have value, that we have purpose.”
May you have a holy Lent as we journey through these forty days together.