As I was finishing last week’s post, I drank a cup of dark chocolate cocoa. With cinnamon. And whipped cream. As I reached into the fridge for the can of whipped cream, I was still thinking about what Lent should look like for me this year. What was I supposed to give up?
Cocoa? I wondered.
I still find myself wondering, What is Lent? and What should it look like in my life?
What is Lent?
As I mentioned last week, Lent is a season of self-denial as penance and penitence in the Catholic Church, in preparation for Easter. But Lent isn’t just for Catholics. All Christians can benefit from taking time to reflect on the sacrifice Christ made for us and consider what in our lives keeps us from full obedience and communion with God. Purposely and purposefully giving something up makes room for something better.
Lent is observed for forty days leading up to Easter. It begins Ash Wednesday, which in 2017 was March 1. Easter is April 16. If you’re looking at your calendar and scratching your head over the math, Sundays aren’t counted. They’re not part of the Catholic Church fast.
Why Forty Days?
Before Jesus began His public ministry, He fasted in the wilderness for forty days. He was hungry, and Satan tried to take advantage of that when he tempted Him. The food He gave up and the temptations He refused are a small part of all He gave up when He stepped down from His place with His Father to come to earth to redeem us.
Doesn’t He deserve us giving up something for Him?
Truth is, He deserves everything. We need to give up all that we think we are and have to follow Him. How that looks is different for each of us.
And how it looks in our lives changes over time, as we grow in faith and Christlikeness, and pass through different seasons.
Needs vs. Wants
I don’t need chocolate; I do need more time focused on God.
Am I giving up cocoa? No. It’s not something holding me back from God. What would be the purpose of giving up hot cocoa? Or chocolate in general? It would be a meaningless sacrifice, at least at this time. Maybe someday God will ask me to fast from the hot cocoa I enjoy.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to give up something like chocolate or meat as a sacrifice for a season. But it has to be for more than just giving something up because the calendar or Church says you should.
Sometimes God lays on our heart something we should give up that doesn’t make sense. It’s only in the act of denying ourselves that He reveals His purpose, and we are changed as we yield.
Other times we give up something good to make room for something better. The fast of Lent can teach us that things we think we need are merely things we want. Holding onto things we want doesn’t leave much room for what we truly need. It can hurt to let things go, especially when it’s to embrace something we need that comes through its own pain.
Sometimes we need to sacrifice something good for a season so we have that space to focus on God, perhaps in petition. Fasting is an area in which I have little experience, but I know it’s valuable when done right.
How Should I Observe Lent?
Over the last few years, many Christians writers and bloggers of different backgrounds have shared ideas on how to observe Lent.
Giving up a pleasure
This is the most common way I’ve heard people talk about observing Lent this year, but not the most common way written about. Giving up a pleasure, in a Catholicesque manner, to honor Christ’s sacrifice. To feel a shadow of loss, and letting go of self to grow in Christlikeness. Or, to gain a new perspective on things we think we need. A good question to ask about how you enjoy things is, does your pleasure reside in the object, or go beyond it in gratitude to the Creator and Giver of all good gifts?
Giving up an activity
This is what I’ve seen the most posts and articles on, giving up an activity to spend that time with God. Maybe some social media time, or those last precious thirty minutes of sleep in the morning…
Giving up bad
This was, by far, the most popular topic last year. Giving up a bad habit or attitude, that should be given up any way. It’s always a good time to grow in this way. Why not use the season of Lent to consciously and conscientiously work at replacing the bad with good? Then keep at it after Easter.
Anger, envy, unforgiveness, lust, the list goes on. Measurable goals are key. It’s not just, I’m giving up anger, it’s something practical, like, I will take a deep breath and count to seven instead of raising my voice when my child… It’s not, I’ll work on my lust during Lent, but, I’ll be take responsibility for what I feed my mind, and instead of giving in to fantasy when a lustful thought crosses my mind, I’ll memorize and repeat Philippians 4:8 in my head.
Maybe it’s giving up an unhealthy habit, like overeating or smoking, and taking a daily walk or other regular exercise, to honor God in the area of physical health.
Giving up ADDING good
More are suggesting this year, adding things instead of giving things up. When it comes down to it, adding acts of service, devotional time, or fellowship, etc. is a different way to approach giving up time for a usual thing, to use it for something that better honors God, and perhaps provides the opportunity to live the Gospel to those who don’t know it, or encourage those who do.Lent reminds us to give up what is good for what is best. Click To Tweet
How about you?
Are you part of a church that observes Lent? Or were you wondering What is Lent?
Do you observe Lent? How are you living it this year? Comment below…
Me? I’m starting a little late, but I’m giving up the morning habit I fell into when I stopped being conscientious about picking up my Bible before my phone in the morning. It was an easy bad habit to fall into… checking my messages, email, FB notifications, hitting Pinterest… when my phone was my alarm clock.
What am I putting in place of that time? Prayer. Then Bible. They’re the best ways to start the day.
Prayer is something I’m really falling down on lately. Not good, especially for someone planning a prayer walk for a weekend ladies retreat. My favorite method to get consistent in my prayer time is using colored index cards, and I’ll share more about that later.
For me this year, Lent is not just a temporary fast, but the opportunity to give up something to better honor God with that time, and establish a new habit to carry beyond Lent. More consistent time in prayer, and not anesthetizing myself with mindless social media scrolling first thing in the morning, will quicken my awareness of God’s presence and work in my life, even in the mundane… and unpleasant. More on how that can more specifically prepare my heart for Easter to follow.
I’d love to hear how God is growing you through giving up this season of Lent. Share below!
Did you miss Part 1 of How to Grow through Giving Up? I answered the question, What is Ash Wednesday? Check it out here!