Summary: Most people attempt to give something up for Lent. But is what we give up for Lent beneficial to us or to God?

This past Wednesday, the collective whole of the Christendom observed Ash Wednesday. A day in the church year when we are reminded of our mortality, but more importantly, reminded of our reliance on God, both for life in this world and for life in the next. This day is the mark of the beginning of the church season of Lent; a time of the year when we focus on the sacrifice that God, in Christ, made for us because of our sinful nature.

Over the last few decades for sure, maybe longer, Christians all over the world have marked this season with some sort of sacrifice of their own. The basic premise behind this is that since Christ sacrificed everything for us, the least we could do is sacrifice one little luxury in our lives; at least for a 40-day period. Most often that which is being sacrificed is trivial in nature; coffee (or at least expensive Star Bucks/Caribou/Dunkin’ Donuts etc.), chocolate, extra spending, swearing. In an article I came across earlier this week the author, René Albert, attempts to expand this list.{i} She offers up 10 things that can, reasonably, be given up for Lent. Some of them are included in the standard list I offer above, some of them are of a different nature; things like sleeping in, smoking, fast food restaurants (or just eating out all together), video games, online shopping (or shopping in general), “chill” (i.e. sexual gratification), Netflix, or Social Media. Despite this somewhat trivial list of things, the number one thing the author offers up in fact gets right at the heart of the whole purpose of the self-sacrifices of Lent. The number one thing to give up, according to her, is in fact something that you should not give up, which is the practice of Lent itself. In agreement with Ms. Albert, I too feel that for the most part the Lenten practice of sacrifice has become too trivial in nature, something that someone who wants to take this season of the church year seriously is becoming fed up with. There is agreement amongst Christians that maybe this year we should give up on giving something up for Lent because that practice seems to have gotten too far away from the actual purpose of doing a Lenten practice of sacrifice to begin with. But Ms. Albert is right when she writes under number one of his top ten list that Lent itself is not something to give up. While she doesn’t expound on this too much further, I believe what she means is that instead of giving up Lent for Lent, we should instead refocus what it is we are giving up, why, and for what purpose. You see the whole purpose of giving something up for Lent is so that we can be drawn closer to God is some way, shape, or form in our everyday lives. Something that can last well beyond those 40 days of Lent to help us grow more spiritual.

In fact, this is exactly what the scripture texts assigned for today by the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) suggest to us. In the text from Joel we are commended to return to the Lord. Not to just simply tear our clothes as a sign of sacrifice, as was a common practice in those days, but instead to “rend [our] hearts.” For when we do return to the Lord we will be reminded once again, or maybe for the first time, that the Lord is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love”!{ii} The Psalmist echoes the sentiments of Joel by imploring God to create in us clean hearts and right, true spirits; restoring unto us the joy of salvation that only God can bring.{iii} For the only sacrifice that is truly acceptable to God is a broken and contrite heart and spirit.{iv}

With that in mind I would like to offer some addendums to a few of the items on Ms. Albert’s top ten list of things to give up for Lent.

10. Sleeping In – While there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to give up sleeping in, I feel that in order to truly live out a Lenten Practice of giving this habit up, one must instead spend the time they would have otherwise spent sleeping growing closer to God. To be fair the author does say that she spent her time she would have otherwise been sleeping by going to early morning mass as motivation. However, I feel her focus is not in the right spot she is going to mass to help her give up her habit instead of giving up her habit to grow deeper in her relationship to God.

9. Smoking/Vaping – While Scripture does say that it is not what goes into the body that defiles it but what comes out, there is something to taking care of the bodies God has given us so to be healthier in order to fully live out the lives God would have us live. So, to take this one a step further I would say that one could give up taking in a toxin that harms the body while at the same time beginning a regimen of something that will help support and sustain the bodies God has given us so to use them to God’s glory in our everyday lives.

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