It was just the other day when I began to suspect that things had gotten out of control around here.
I was merely minding my own business, trying, in fact, to be unusually kind to my colleagues by bringing a box of donuts to work to share. (I think that donuts generally make everybody in the whole world happy, but they are particularly glee-inducing on Fridays and I happen to know that they generally thrill our church administrator, especially if they are chocolate of some sort.) But I walked into the church office and ran into one colleague who, taking one look at me and my donuts screamed, “Get behind me Satan!”
It is not uncommon, mind you, to encounter strange behavior among the church staff, but I really thought this was a little bit unusual even for us. Once I had this rather jarring experience I started to notice that everybody around here is giving something up for Lent and so I feel that it is my pastoral obligation to remind people that this whole self-denial-for-Lent thing is not a typical Baptist practice; its much more common in other religious traditions.
But, it is pretty fun to watch.
So far I’ve noticed the strangest things, like a collection container for the money one would have spent on all the Diet Coke she gave up for Lent. I’ve also heard the most incredible (masterful, really) rationalizing I have ever encountered (Hot chocolate is not technically chocolate? ??!? Allyson . . . you crack me up) and witnessed urgent longings for things like . . . cheese.
In many traditions it is customary to give up something for Lent, such as “fast from” something. There are several reasons this tradition was started . . . it’s an exercise in learning self control; it’s a reminder of Christ’s suffering for us; it’s even been known as an expression of sorrow over the many ways in which we fail to live up to the high calling of our faith. For some this is an important spiritual exercise, a sort of “spring cleaning” to help focus the mind and get ready for Easter. An awareness of our failures can be overwhelming, so we do it consciously before Easter, when we celebrate God’s grace and forgiveness. Giving up something for Lent can also be an exercise in uncluttering . . . in recognizing and naming some of the things that have crept into our lives, begun to dictate our actions, and crowded out any available space for God to speak to us.
Ultimately, my observations of my friends, family, community, and self giving things up for Lent have led me to recognize that there’s something very personal and deeply spiritual about the practice; something much more personal than any kind of church requirement could impose. I know this because my own giving up has been hard this Lent.
I also know this because of something Sam (age 10) told me the other day. You see, he’s had a rough time sticking to his pledge to give up playing football during recess for Lent. When I heard this I thought, “Man, I should have given up football at recess! That would have been much easier!”
And I guess that’s the whole point.
What are you giving up, and why?