No chocolate for Lent?

“What are you giving up for Lent?”  We’ve all heard this question.  Perhaps, you have an annual food or activity or other pleasure you aim to break from for the 40 days of the Lenten season–whether it is for religious tradition, health reasons, or exercising a fasting discipline for an extended time.  All of these things are admirable.  But, I have been considering this season and what it could mean–even beyond 40 days.

Lent can indeed be a time for “giving up”–but I think it can mean so much more than refraining from an indulgence (guilty or not) for a time.  The forty days of Lent involve the process of purposefully looking at our sinful selves. It’s a time of walking with Christ through the dark time preceding his death on the Cross.  It’s a time of seeing our completely desperate need for Christ and for turning our hearts toward him.

If this season is indeed a time of repenting, of turning toward Christ, I wonder how these weeks might have a different look than primarily “giving up chocolate”, in a manner of speaking.

There are volumes to write on great, pious Lenten practices.  But, I hope to look at these next weeks of Lent as sort of a specific “doorway” to changes in my heart that will go beyond this actual season. I am asking God what I need to set aside or perhaps what I need to take ON in order to turn my heart toward him.  What sacrifice do I need to make, what mediocrity do I need to lay down so that his life will deepen in me? It may be that I actually do give up something near and dear to me, something that may have too deep ahold of me. But—this will not be an end in itself.

I want to approach this season, asking God where he needs to work in my heart, asking from what I need to repent in my everyday existence. But, beyond this, I am also asking him how he wants my heart to enlarge—how I can repent from looking only into my own world. What boundaries need to enlarge?

I read in Isaiah 58 recently and this gave a timely expression of how God views sacrifice.  It is not some sanitized, one-off, distanced, money-in-the-offering-plate thing (not to dismiss the offerings we give or charities we support). The whole chapter gives a clear picture of what does and does not equal a pleasing sacrifice, but verses 6-7 stood out to me:

No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

This is a strong picture of loving our neighbors, which is NOT distanced. It is not ideological; it comes out of a relationship. And the only way I’ll be able to approach this measure of loving others is through surrendering to the incarnational love of Jesus.

I don’t know how all of this will actually “play out” in my everyday life. I need to have conversations with God. We are confronted with a prevailing, divisive atmosphere, and there is a long list of causes, beliefs, ideologies vying for attention and allegiance. The anxieties, the anger, and the surety of opinion—it can be confusing and disheartening. But, I do know that my desire is to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. Whatever I step back from in the season of Lent will be a way to turn my heart toward loving God and others more deeply and transparently—not a 40 day exercise in will power.

This is what I hope to examine when Lent begins on March 1st. May God deeply bless you, as you consider what Lent may mean for you this year.