Confession: The first time I heard of Lent, I thought it was awfully funny. I was nine years old or so, working in a neighbor’s greenhouse transplanting seedlings and getting paid by the individual flat, which I painstakingly tallied on a dirt-smeared paper beside me. The owner’s granddaughter Lindy worked alongside me. We chatted about things, and at some point she asked what I was giving up for Lent.
“Lent?” asked the little Mennonite girl.
“Yeah, because Jesus suffered. You give up something until Easter.”
“Oh,” I said, and immediately started thinking high and holy. Giving up selfishness? Giving up complaining? Giving up worry, or losing my temper?
“I’ve decided,” Lindy said calmly, “to give up gum.”
Oooh I thought it was funny. I knew better than to laugh aloud at any sacrifice for Christ, but weren’t we supposed to give up big things so we got holy?
Only in recent years have I begun to realize – begun to realize – that giving up doesn’t have a size. Or a neat physical/spiritual split. Fasting from anything I want can become a strong step toward mental clarity, wise evaluation of my activities and loves, personal discipline, and ultimately, dependence on and presence with Christ. I’ve started giving things up for Lent.
Here are some ideas of what I, or the people I love, have chosen to go without during Lent in various years. No laughing.
- Buying “extra” or “impulse” things online
- Bedtime snacks (shudder – that was a horrible six weeks)
- Reading news on a phone
- Checking sports scores
- A favorite snack, like nuts or chocolate
- Buying more clothes
- Drinking pop
But I admit I do laugh some, because I have great fun thinking of impossible things to give up for Lent.
- A few kids
- Washing dishes
- Sharing my bed
- Appearing on photographs
- Reading Scripture
I’m sorry. Laughter should not be part of this, probably. But wouldn’t they make great memes? “I gave up dieting for Lent.”
This year I’ve chosen to give up Facebook. It’s taking up a disproportionate amount of my unstructured time, and netting me unhappiness at this season – which makes it a win-win sacrifice. I hope.
(And by the way, I’ve been meaning to say this… If you befriended me on Facebook and I didn’t accept it, please know it’s not personal. Bloggers draw their public lines at different places, but for me, Facebook is one spot where I want to know personally all the people that I’m friends with. It’s a way of offering more privacy to myself and my family. I hope you will understand.)
Besides giving up something, I am adding something to my life during Lent. My friend Piper introduced our church ladies to the book Bread and Wine: readings for Lent and Easter. It’s produced by Plough Publishing, the Bruderhof’s publishing house, and contains daily reading selections from the works of a wide variety of Christian authors, both ancient and modern: Philip Yancey, Augustine, Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Wendell Berry, Christina Rossetti, Peter Kreeft, and N.T. Wright, to name just a few.
I am thoroughly looking forward to Bread and Wine. As an additional joy, Piper is arranging a brunch after Easter with the church ladies who are reading it, to discuss the book – what we learned, and how we experienced the readings. You could start something similar in your own church.
If I’ve given you enough time.
As Advent quiets the heart for Christmas, Lent makes space for the Resurrection. How do you prepare your heart to welcome Christ afresh?
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