Giving Up Giving Up

Today is Pancake Day in England and Mardi Gras in America.  I am so on board with both of these.  One has parades, copious fruity drinks, and a delicious cake that is essentially a giant cinnamon roll.  The other has pancakes.  There are no losers.


(See what I mean?  No losers here.)

Lent is a whole other matter.  I was brought up to think that Lent was a Catholic thing and given lots of reasons why there is no reason for us to need to abstain from meat or to deny ourselves anything.  This could be just as much cultural as it is denominational.  (I'm looking at you, Georgia!)

When I was living in Atlanta, I had a few non-Catholic friends who did Lent, so I thought, "Okay.  I'll give up something I love too."  It was generally Starbucks or chocolate related.  I only made it the entire 40 days once I think.

People in the UK seem to be slightly more inclined toward Lenten fasting and things, so I've surveyed my Facebook feed to see what people are giving up.  The most popular choices seem to be:

1.  Facebook
2.  Coffee
3.  Chocolate/sweets or something like baked goods
4.  Candy Crush Saga (an insanely addictive game)
5.  Alcohol

As a historian, I've read a bit on Lenten fasting and abstinence.  At some points in English history, they were actual laws that people had to follow.  No meat on Fridays became no fish or fowl on some days, then no fruit or eggs, and in some places, only bread made with yeast or sourdough was allowed. People's tastes in what not to taste have changed a lot.  At some points, people decided to forbid having sex during Lent.  The abundance of children born in the late fall and early winter means this probably wasn't that popular either.

But what's the purpose of doing it?  What good does it do us to quit drinking coffee or caffeine for 40 days?  According to what I've read, the purpose is to mirror what Jesus did for the 40 days in the wilderness.  He fasted and fought temptation with scripture.  If anything points to Jesus being God, for me, it's those things.  Not eating or drinking for 40 days in the "wilderness" or desert for a human would probably mean death.  But he didn't die.  Also, I personally do not fight temptation well.  I certainly don't quote scripture when I get angry or worried (my personal temptations).  The bible is full of scriptures about not being angry and not being worried, but I certainly don't start quoting them when I feel that way.

Here's the thing that I think we miss when we "give up" something for 40 days:  We know we can start again.  We count down until the end of the 40 days and BAM!  Back to the delicious gossip of Facebook, the wakeful sensation of the caffeine or the sweet taste of sugar and chocolate.  We give up something we are addicted to or love, then we take it up again, thinking how godly we are for having stopped doing something for 40 days.

I don't think that's leading us to a deeper understanding of Jesus' suffering.  In fact, I think it's making us think that we are really "suffering" when we're really just killing time.  It makes me think of this verse in Hebrews (2:18):

"For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

Here's some more from Hebrews to send it home:

Hebrews 5:2
He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.

I think when we give up something for Lent, we are sometimes making a mockery of real suffering.  I know that's harsh, but hear me out.

Jesus' suffering and temptation HAD TO LEAD TO SOMETHING.  After he fasted and resisted the devil, hour upon hour for forty days, he got up, walked out of the wilderness and started ministering to people.

He didn't go back to the food and the comfort of home and carpentry.  He left the old life behind forever.  He called some disciples, then he went on to heal people of diseases.

Here is my suggestion:  MAYBE we are doing "suffering" and "temptation" all wrong.  I don't think that we are being prepared for anything if we are simply giving up meat or Facebook for a month.  Jesus wasn't just suffering.  He was getting closer to God.  Closer to the truth.  Closer to heavenly things.  Maybe the true suffering of starvation and fasting and temptation made the things that really matter a lot clearer.

So, in that vein, I am giving up the giving up.  I'm not going to deprive myself, I'm going to prepare myself.

Instead of giving up the coffee, we could choose to wake up by thanking God.
Instead of giving up looking at the sports scores, we could be choosing to look at scriptures.
Instead of giving up cake, we could be choosing to fill ourselves with food that will truly satisfy us.
Instead of giving up alcohol, we could be choosing to let the Holy Spirit overflow in us.

What if we shift the focus of Lent from what we are giving up, to what we are giving out to the world?  What amazing changes could happen after forty days if we prepared ourselves to minister?


Popular Posts