Lenten observances

I love the Lenten season and it always does me good.  I try to discipline myself more–which usually in my case means not eating so much and exercising more–and I usually work through some heavy-duty theological text for my edification.  (I have a couple in mind that I’m anxious to take on.  I’ll probably report on them here in the days ahead.)  I sometimes ramp up my Bible reading.

President Harrison (below) urges us to join him in praying the Litany.

Of course there is no merit in ascetic self-flagellations, but most of us could use some practice in denying ourselves, if only in small ways, and Lent is a good time to do that.  And it intensifies the experience of Easter when I can cast off my self-imposed little laws and enjoy the rush of freedom, an image of the Gospel, which is what Easter is all about.

What do you do, or not do for Lent?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Booklover

    I intend to try avoiding most sugar and white flour, read my Lenten readings, share the Lenten readings with my facebook friends (whether they want to see them or not) :-), and daily reflect on “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted,” my favorite hymn.

  • Booklover

    I intend to try avoiding most sugar and white flour, read my Lenten readings, share the Lenten readings with my facebook friends (whether they want to see them or not) :-), and daily reflect on “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted,” my favorite hymn.

  • George

    I tend to be a bit of a weeny when it comes to doing the full fast (that is, meat and oil and dairy). I think I try it about every year and fail about 4 days. Generally I actually somewhat succeed in fasting from all drinks but water for the season, and praying from the Treasury of Daily Prayer every day.

    I also cover up my crucifixes.

    I’ve heard its an old german custom to make pretzels for Lent, because they don’t have eggs or oil (and are therefore fast-friendly) and they resemble praying arms. I’ll have to make my sister bake me some this year ;).

  • George

    I tend to be a bit of a weeny when it comes to doing the full fast (that is, meat and oil and dairy). I think I try it about every year and fail about 4 days. Generally I actually somewhat succeed in fasting from all drinks but water for the season, and praying from the Treasury of Daily Prayer every day.

    I also cover up my crucifixes.

    I’ve heard its an old german custom to make pretzels for Lent, because they don’t have eggs or oil (and are therefore fast-friendly) and they resemble praying arms. I’ll have to make my sister bake me some this year ;).

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    One year, one of the boys in my daughters’ class told his parents his going to give up his chores for Lent. I’m not sure how long that lasted… :)

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    One year, one of the boys in my daughters’ class told his parents his going to give up his chores for Lent. I’m not sure how long that lasted… :)

  • mikeb

    One year I informed my wife I was giving up lima beans. She wasn’t amused, since she knows that I’d never consciously injest one.

    We don’t usually commit to personal sacrifice or extra meditation (on the Word or another lesson) on account of Lent but we usually do give up something symbolic, like certain beverages or a favorite meal. We do enjoy going to the midweek Lenten meditations though with 2 small children it’s a rare treat.

  • mikeb

    One year I informed my wife I was giving up lima beans. She wasn’t amused, since she knows that I’d never consciously injest one.

    We don’t usually commit to personal sacrifice or extra meditation (on the Word or another lesson) on account of Lent but we usually do give up something symbolic, like certain beverages or a favorite meal. We do enjoy going to the midweek Lenten meditations though with 2 small children it’s a rare treat.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    This is still a weird one for me to participate in at times because of the association made with legalism and Roman Catholicism by both my Baptist upbringing and many of my fellow Calvinist bretheren, but my counter is that so long as Lent is not viewed as equal to Scriptural doctrine (Roman Catholicism) or made as a meritorious work there’s no problem with it.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    This is still a weird one for me to participate in at times because of the association made with legalism and Roman Catholicism by both my Baptist upbringing and many of my fellow Calvinist bretheren, but my counter is that so long as Lent is not viewed as equal to Scriptural doctrine (Roman Catholicism) or made as a meritorious work there’s no problem with it.

  • Joe

    We talk with our kids about fasting (giving up something) as a means to reflect upon the sacrifice Christ made for us. We don’t require the that the kids do it. As of last night the three older kids (11, 9, & 6) were planning to give something up. As of last night, the 11 year old is still trying to decide what. The 9 year old gave up his favorite handheld electronic device and the 6 year old gave sugar – not all sugar, but just putting extra sugar on things and eating from the sugar bowl.

    Personally, I give up something (this year sweats – candy, cake etc.) for the entire season and I fast on Wednesdays.

    I call it Luterfast – I eat nothing from sun up to potluck.

  • Joe

    We talk with our kids about fasting (giving up something) as a means to reflect upon the sacrifice Christ made for us. We don’t require the that the kids do it. As of last night the three older kids (11, 9, & 6) were planning to give something up. As of last night, the 11 year old is still trying to decide what. The 9 year old gave up his favorite handheld electronic device and the 6 year old gave sugar – not all sugar, but just putting extra sugar on things and eating from the sugar bowl.

    Personally, I give up something (this year sweats – candy, cake etc.) for the entire season and I fast on Wednesdays.

    I call it Luterfast – I eat nothing from sun up to potluck.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I avoid saying … Which deprives me of singing my favorite hymns. It tends to mean I go a little crazy on Easter.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I avoid saying … Which deprives me of singing my favorite hymns. It tends to mean I go a little crazy on Easter.

  • http://www.whenisayrunrun.blogspot.com Andrew

    I continue to follow the fasts of my Orthodox days, not because I have to, I did not then either, but because it does discipline me. And if I slip up, which I frequently do, I can be reminded that I can’t save myself by my own power or will, that it is Christ who saves me who saves us not my efforts.

    As for a mental task, I just began The Two Natures in Christ, the Chemnitz version and not the arch book version. Although I may wish I was reading the arch book version… :)

  • http://www.whenisayrunrun.blogspot.com Andrew

    I continue to follow the fasts of my Orthodox days, not because I have to, I did not then either, but because it does discipline me. And if I slip up, which I frequently do, I can be reminded that I can’t save myself by my own power or will, that it is Christ who saves me who saves us not my efforts.

    As for a mental task, I just began The Two Natures in Christ, the Chemnitz version and not the arch book version. Although I may wish I was reading the arch book version… :)

  • SKPeterson

    I started praying the Litany as part of my morning devotions last year, and I’m doing the same. Right now I’m reading the Bible and the Book of Concord through in a year, so my room for additional practices is limited. I’m going to try a little more for Lenten simplicity, maybe only two meals a day, or going with a simple (but hearty) bean soup with bread which evokes an old print my parents had: http://www.gracebyenstrom.com/history.html

  • SKPeterson

    I started praying the Litany as part of my morning devotions last year, and I’m doing the same. Right now I’m reading the Bible and the Book of Concord through in a year, so my room for additional practices is limited. I’m going to try a little more for Lenten simplicity, maybe only two meals a day, or going with a simple (but hearty) bean soup with bread which evokes an old print my parents had: http://www.gracebyenstrom.com/history.html

  • Mole

    From a sermon by Walter J. Burghardt, SJ entitled “For Your Penance, Look Redeemed”.

    “To you I am suggesting that give up something sweeter than candy, smokier than Kents, perhaps more destructive than sin. I mean absorption in yourself – where you take yourself all too seriously, where the days and nights rotate around you, your heartache and your hiatal hernia, your successes and failures, your problems and frustrations”

    And from the Gospel of Luke: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself ………….”

  • Mole

    From a sermon by Walter J. Burghardt, SJ entitled “For Your Penance, Look Redeemed”.

    “To you I am suggesting that give up something sweeter than candy, smokier than Kents, perhaps more destructive than sin. I mean absorption in yourself – where you take yourself all too seriously, where the days and nights rotate around you, your heartache and your hiatal hernia, your successes and failures, your problems and frustrations”

    And from the Gospel of Luke: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself ………….”

  • Jenn W

    We try to do something to incorporate into our daily lives that brings our focus back to Christ. This year we’re going to work on the family as a whole doing a morning and evening prayer (will use the litany for that). And I’m working my way through the Book of Concord. I heard a rumor that there’s a new Veith book out…. might have to get that for Easter and work on it for Easter Celebration!

  • Jenn W

    We try to do something to incorporate into our daily lives that brings our focus back to Christ. This year we’re going to work on the family as a whole doing a morning and evening prayer (will use the litany for that). And I’m working my way through the Book of Concord. I heard a rumor that there’s a new Veith book out…. might have to get that for Easter and work on it for Easter Celebration!

  • mds

    Since my wife is Catholic and I am Lutheran (makes for a good story) I always tell her I give up giving up things for Lent…

  • mds

    Since my wife is Catholic and I am Lutheran (makes for a good story) I always tell her I give up giving up things for Lent…

  • Grace

    Dr. Veith wrote:

    “What do you do, or not do for Lent?”

    First of all, I don’t consider it “Lent” – I look constantly back on the previous years of my life, searching what I could and did not do to further the Gospel of Christ. As the time grows shorter, as the end nears, many of us concern ourselves with those who have not come to know Christ. We are humbled by our inadequate abilities to spread the Gospel, yet knowing that the LORD God knows all of these things, and will see us through to the end.

    I have read the different threads posted here on the blog regarding Lent, ‘giving up’ something, whatever that “something” is, that you choose.

    Jesus Christ gave HIS life for us on the cross at Calvary, there is nothing we can give up such as a favorite food, etc., that will have anything to do with our Salvation, or proving our worthiness. Jesus told us to preach HIS Gospel, that is sometimes the hardest thing to do in our everyday lives, but it’s what we were told to do by our Savior.

    15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16

    Our preparation here on earth, as Believers in Christ is for Eternity, in preparing ourselves we must tell others about the only Savior, the only Salvation that exists, as quoted in the above passage.

    I remind everyone there is no place in Scripture which speaks of Lent – the forty days the LORD spent in the desert has nothing to do with Lent – That particular time in Jesus life took place just after HIS Baptism, (see Matthew 3 and 4) there were three years which followed as he preached to repent of their sins, and follow HIM-

  • Grace

    Dr. Veith wrote:

    “What do you do, or not do for Lent?”

    First of all, I don’t consider it “Lent” – I look constantly back on the previous years of my life, searching what I could and did not do to further the Gospel of Christ. As the time grows shorter, as the end nears, many of us concern ourselves with those who have not come to know Christ. We are humbled by our inadequate abilities to spread the Gospel, yet knowing that the LORD God knows all of these things, and will see us through to the end.

    I have read the different threads posted here on the blog regarding Lent, ‘giving up’ something, whatever that “something” is, that you choose.

    Jesus Christ gave HIS life for us on the cross at Calvary, there is nothing we can give up such as a favorite food, etc., that will have anything to do with our Salvation, or proving our worthiness. Jesus told us to preach HIS Gospel, that is sometimes the hardest thing to do in our everyday lives, but it’s what we were told to do by our Savior.

    15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16

    Our preparation here on earth, as Believers in Christ is for Eternity, in preparing ourselves we must tell others about the only Savior, the only Salvation that exists, as quoted in the above passage.

    I remind everyone there is no place in Scripture which speaks of Lent – the forty days the LORD spent in the desert has nothing to do with Lent – That particular time in Jesus life took place just after HIS Baptism, (see Matthew 3 and 4) there were three years which followed as he preached to repent of their sins, and follow HIM-

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Grace (@13), this will be the second comment in which I’ve replied to your fairly extensive anti-Lent sentiments. What’s funny is that, having thus considered your comments, it’s still not clear to me what the problem is for you. What, exactly, have you got against Lent? That it’s a tradition? Are you, therefore, against all traditions? It’s not clear.

    First of all, I don’t consider it “Lent”

    Whether or not you consider it so has no effect on the fact that it is, currently, Lent. Maybe you also don’t consider that it’s February, or spring. Oh well.

    I have read the different threads posted here on the blog regarding Lent, ‘giving up’ something, whatever that “something” is, that you choose.

    It occurs to me that you think Lent is solely about fasting or abstaining. That’s certainly all you’ve mentioned about the season. If so, you’re missing quite a lot of what Lent is about. to the degree that the focus in the discussion here has led you to that conclusion, it is lamentable.

    Jesus Christ gave HIS life for us on the cross at Calvary, there is nothing we can give up such as a favorite food, etc., that will have anything to do with our Salvation, or proving our worthiness.

    And no one is claiming otherwise. No one — at least, no one on this blog — is claiming that we fast (or otherwise abstain) for “our salvation”.

    I remind everyone there is no place in Scripture which speaks of Lent

    Okay. But what’s your point? Is it wrong to use a wristwatch to tell me what time church is starting, since the Bible contains no mention whatsoever of wristwatches?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Grace (@13), this will be the second comment in which I’ve replied to your fairly extensive anti-Lent sentiments. What’s funny is that, having thus considered your comments, it’s still not clear to me what the problem is for you. What, exactly, have you got against Lent? That it’s a tradition? Are you, therefore, against all traditions? It’s not clear.

    First of all, I don’t consider it “Lent”

    Whether or not you consider it so has no effect on the fact that it is, currently, Lent. Maybe you also don’t consider that it’s February, or spring. Oh well.

    I have read the different threads posted here on the blog regarding Lent, ‘giving up’ something, whatever that “something” is, that you choose.

    It occurs to me that you think Lent is solely about fasting or abstaining. That’s certainly all you’ve mentioned about the season. If so, you’re missing quite a lot of what Lent is about. to the degree that the focus in the discussion here has led you to that conclusion, it is lamentable.

    Jesus Christ gave HIS life for us on the cross at Calvary, there is nothing we can give up such as a favorite food, etc., that will have anything to do with our Salvation, or proving our worthiness.

    And no one is claiming otherwise. No one — at least, no one on this blog — is claiming that we fast (or otherwise abstain) for “our salvation”.

    I remind everyone there is no place in Scripture which speaks of Lent

    Okay. But what’s your point? Is it wrong to use a wristwatch to tell me what time church is starting, since the Bible contains no mention whatsoever of wristwatches?

  • Grace

    My point is as follows:

    Giving up food, sugar, TV, sports or anything else has anything to do with Resurrection Sunday. The time when we celebrate the Resurrection of our LORD and Savior. Anything we do, no matter what it is, has nothing to do with Christ Jesus gift to us which HE suffered on the Cross, so that we might be saved.

    What did Christ tell us to do?

    He said:

    Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

    Not one word of giving up sweets, TV, or any other such nonsense.

    So, you can turn it around. Rather than telling your neighbor, friend, those you do business with, the teller at your bank, the person who checks you out at the market, including your co-workers about Christ……… just give up your fav sugar sweet, or TV program, and then sit back and think about how much you would really like to have that chocolate cake in the pantry. I don’t think anyone is thinking of Christ when they are mooning over the cookies and cake in the kitchen.

  • Grace

    My point is as follows:

    Giving up food, sugar, TV, sports or anything else has anything to do with Resurrection Sunday. The time when we celebrate the Resurrection of our LORD and Savior. Anything we do, no matter what it is, has nothing to do with Christ Jesus gift to us which HE suffered on the Cross, so that we might be saved.

    What did Christ tell us to do?

    He said:

    Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

    Not one word of giving up sweets, TV, or any other such nonsense.

    So, you can turn it around. Rather than telling your neighbor, friend, those you do business with, the teller at your bank, the person who checks you out at the market, including your co-workers about Christ……… just give up your fav sugar sweet, or TV program, and then sit back and think about how much you would really like to have that chocolate cake in the pantry. I don’t think anyone is thinking of Christ when they are mooning over the cookies and cake in the kitchen.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Grace (@15):

    Giving up food, sugar, TV, sports or anything else has anything to do with Resurrection Sunday.

    You do realize that we’re not discussing Easter, right? The topic here is the season of Lent (which leads up to, but is not part of, the season of Easter), and the common practice of fasting during Lent.

    Anything we do, no matter what it is, has nothing to do with Christ Jesus gift to us which HE suffered on the Cross, so that we might be saved.

    Your writing makes your points difficult to understand, but even so: who is saying otherwise? What point are you contradicting, and who is making it? This seems like a remarkable straw man on your part. I am far from convinced that you have any sort of understanding of what Lent is or means — especially for Lutherans — your typical claims notwithstanding.

    What did Christ tell us to do? He said: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Not one word of giving up sweets, TV, or any other such nonsense.

    It’s ironic, but you’ve ended up twisting Scripture to your own ends here. Jesus didn’t only command us to preach the Gospel. He commanded us to teach all nations “to obey everything I have commanded you”! Which, you know, includes Matthew 6, where Jesus commands us regarding fasting. So yes, he did tell us to teach others about “such nonsense”.

    And who told you that fasting and preaching the Gospel are mutually exclusive ideas? Where did you get such a ridiculous notion? Scripture clearly expects us to do both, so why do you try to make it an either-or situation?

    I don’t think anyone is thinking of Christ when they are mooning over the cookies and cake in the kitchen.

    It seems to me you really don’t understand how fasting works. Yes, as written, your sentence is correct. But if that’s what you think fasting is, you’re doing it wrong.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Grace (@15):

    Giving up food, sugar, TV, sports or anything else has anything to do with Resurrection Sunday.

    You do realize that we’re not discussing Easter, right? The topic here is the season of Lent (which leads up to, but is not part of, the season of Easter), and the common practice of fasting during Lent.

    Anything we do, no matter what it is, has nothing to do with Christ Jesus gift to us which HE suffered on the Cross, so that we might be saved.

    Your writing makes your points difficult to understand, but even so: who is saying otherwise? What point are you contradicting, and who is making it? This seems like a remarkable straw man on your part. I am far from convinced that you have any sort of understanding of what Lent is or means — especially for Lutherans — your typical claims notwithstanding.

    What did Christ tell us to do? He said: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Not one word of giving up sweets, TV, or any other such nonsense.

    It’s ironic, but you’ve ended up twisting Scripture to your own ends here. Jesus didn’t only command us to preach the Gospel. He commanded us to teach all nations “to obey everything I have commanded you”! Which, you know, includes Matthew 6, where Jesus commands us regarding fasting. So yes, he did tell us to teach others about “such nonsense”.

    And who told you that fasting and preaching the Gospel are mutually exclusive ideas? Where did you get such a ridiculous notion? Scripture clearly expects us to do both, so why do you try to make it an either-or situation?

    I don’t think anyone is thinking of Christ when they are mooning over the cookies and cake in the kitchen.

    It seems to me you really don’t understand how fasting works. Yes, as written, your sentence is correct. But if that’s what you think fasting is, you’re doing it wrong.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ah, the old canard: We are against tradition! That is our standpoint! That is our point of departure! We have been saying that for a long time!

    ……maybe, it is your tradition then? ;)

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ah, the old canard: We are against tradition! That is our standpoint! That is our point of departure! We have been saying that for a long time!

    ……maybe, it is your tradition then? ;)

  • Joe

    “I don’t think anyone is thinking of Christ when they are mooning over the cookies and cake in the kitchen.”

    How nice of you to judge my heart. The point of the fast is to cause a physical reminder (i.e hunger pain, desire for something) that another (i.e. Christ) suffered so much more than my paltry little inconvenience to redeem me. It is a way to keep Christ on your mind throughout the course of the day.

  • Joe

    “I don’t think anyone is thinking of Christ when they are mooning over the cookies and cake in the kitchen.”

    How nice of you to judge my heart. The point of the fast is to cause a physical reminder (i.e hunger pain, desire for something) that another (i.e. Christ) suffered so much more than my paltry little inconvenience to redeem me. It is a way to keep Christ on your mind throughout the course of the day.

  • –helen

    One of the reasons (not the only one) to give up something we usually indulge in “for Lent” is to spend the money saved for some charitable purpose, e.g., if you give up food items, you might contribute to the local food bank.

    Would that motive satisfy Grace?

    Christ did not say “if” but “when you fast”. This instruction follows teaching on the giving of alms (charity) and the Lord’s Prayer, logical since prayer and fasting often go together. Skipping a meal to devote the time to extra prayer is one way to combine these instructions.

    Of course, as one Pastor said last night, if you give up something sinful with the intention of resuming it after Easter you’ve rather missed the point!
    [I had a colleague who said, on Good Friday, "I'm glad Easter's almost here; I'll be able to swear again!" (But he "gave up something" as a self discipline; he spoke of Easter as "a superstition".) I wondered what his Scandinavian grandparents thought of that, if they ever heard it.]

  • –helen

    One of the reasons (not the only one) to give up something we usually indulge in “for Lent” is to spend the money saved for some charitable purpose, e.g., if you give up food items, you might contribute to the local food bank.

    Would that motive satisfy Grace?

    Christ did not say “if” but “when you fast”. This instruction follows teaching on the giving of alms (charity) and the Lord’s Prayer, logical since prayer and fasting often go together. Skipping a meal to devote the time to extra prayer is one way to combine these instructions.

    Of course, as one Pastor said last night, if you give up something sinful with the intention of resuming it after Easter you’ve rather missed the point!
    [I had a colleague who said, on Good Friday, "I'm glad Easter's almost here; I'll be able to swear again!" (But he "gave up something" as a self discipline; he spoke of Easter as "a superstition".) I wondered what his Scandinavian grandparents thought of that, if they ever heard it.]

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    What’s particularly sad here is that Grace, while nobly desiring to battle legalistic practices, is merely substituting another legalistic practice. That is to say, she rails against a perceived command (in some churches) that one must observe Lent, and replaces it with a different command that one must not observe Lent.

    As such, hers is not actually a battle against legalism, but just a battle over whose form of legalism is superior.

    Myself, I’ll take the freedom that we have in Christ, including the following of traditions that are not contrary to God’s will and that are found to be useful and good.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    What’s particularly sad here is that Grace, while nobly desiring to battle legalistic practices, is merely substituting another legalistic practice. That is to say, she rails against a perceived command (in some churches) that one must observe Lent, and replaces it with a different command that one must not observe Lent.

    As such, hers is not actually a battle against legalism, but just a battle over whose form of legalism is superior.

    Myself, I’ll take the freedom that we have in Christ, including the following of traditions that are not contrary to God’s will and that are found to be useful and good.


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