The first time that I heard about Lent it was grade 8 French class at the Christian school I attended. I hated French class. My passionate disdain for French class emanated forth from the deepest recesses of my soul.
My French teacher, whom my little 13 year old heart despised for daring to teach me French, decided it was a good idea to teach her little class of heathens about Lent. Keep in mind that every word from this (poor) lady’s mouth was automatically and passionately rejected, as she was a French teacher and could not be trusted. So she taught us about Lent, and for homework we had to decide what to give up for Lent. I was highly suspicious of this unheard of practice that the French-speaking lady was forcing on us. It sounded far too catholic for me. And French. So on my homework form, where it asked what I was giving up for Lent, I wrote: “I’m giving up lent.” She didn’t appreciate that as much as I had hoped. Figures.
Years later I learned more about the season of Lent. In more liturgical churches, the 40 days before Easter (besides Sundays) are set aside as a special time of preparation for Easter. Additional focus is given to our sin, repentance, prayer, and fasting. It’s intended to mirror Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, preparing for his ministry. Christians will often “give up” something for lent, a 40-day fast from some kind of luxury, as a way of drawing their attention to Christ.
Don’t Make a Big Deal Out of Lent
I believe Lent can have great value, and I believe Lent can be a big distraction and waste of time. Lent is a tool. And as Christians we are quite skilled at turning tools into gods and missing the point. Some people get caught up in the activities of Lent and miss its purpose. Others miss Lent and its purpose. In some cultures, the biggest indulgence festivals occur right before Lent as a last gasp opportunity for gluttony and excess before the Lenten fast kicks in. Seems like an exercise in missing the point. Observing Lent isn’t necessarily beneficial or godly. It might be useful, but don’t make a big deal out of Lent itself, or you’ll miss the point of lent: Jesus.
Make a Big Deal Out of Jesus
Observing Lent isn’t biblically commanded, but focusing on Jesus is.
Giving up a luxury for Lent isn’t biblical, but prayer and fasting is.
Ash Wednesday isn’t biblical, but repentance is.
Over time we all tend to forget the gospel. We forget how sinful we are. We allow our besetting sins to creep further into our life. We live without reflecting on our life and soul. We fall out of a practice of daily repentance. And so we forget our need for God’s grace and mercy. We forget our need for the cross.
If Lent helps you prioritize Jesus, Lent away my friend!
If Lent distracts you from Jesus, away with Lent my friend! But whether you Lent or not, be sure to be active in prioritizing Jesus.
To those who are giving up a luxury for Lent: how will your fast lead you to greater repentance of sin and worship of Jesus? Or is it just a fun little game? Is it just for show? So you are cutting out chocolate, but are you adding Jesus?
To those who avoid Lent: fair enough, but how is your liturgical abstinence leading you to greater repentance of sin and worship of Jesus? Is your avoidance driven by love for Jesus or just spiritual sloppiness? Avoid Lent sure, but don’t avoid Jesus.
So, should you give up something for Lent?
I’m not sure it matters. It might be helpful. It might be silly. But what you really should do is devote the next 6 weeks to being intentional about reflecting on the gospel and growing in intimacy with Jesus. Make a plan and make room for Jesus. If cutting out Starbucks helps with that, then by all means, Lent away.