The idea behind Lent is to take a look at our lives, to do an honest assessment of our journey to/toward/with God and to repent of the things that are distancing us from God – to turn away from those things. Considering how many things we have in our lives today, the distractions, the obstacles, that get between us and our ability to follow the teachings of Jesus, I just can't help but think that Lent may actually be more needed now than it has ever been.
But I also have to say, I dread THAT question. You know the one. It pops up about this time every year. Say it with me, “What did you give up for Lent?” Ugghh.
It has almost become a benchmark of righteousness.
“I gave up alcohol.”
“Oh. Well, I used to give up alcohol, but it was too easy. So, I'm also giving up meat and television.”
At times, it feels like a one-upsmanship of devotion. “I'll see your night-time glass of red wine and raise you red meat and the bliss of zoning out to American Idol.”
I know this game so well because I fell into that Lent trap many years ago. It just feels so right, so normal, so … self-righteously-holy. It got to the point one year that, and I kid you not, I gave up all beverages other than water, all meat, TV (except for the NCAA tournament – a boy's got his limits), sweets (except for my Birthday Cake – c'mon, it's my birthday!), late night snacks (even ones of the non-sweet persuasion), and I added daily exercise and daily devotions, increased my giving to charities and told at least one person a day how good they were at what they do.
Why so much? Well, I'd been giving up and adding things to my life during Lent for quite awhile. It was my understanding that a big part of doing it was to identify with the sacrifice that Jesus made for us (you know, atonement theology stuff). Each year the “giving up stuff” was easier and easier, and just felt like it wasn't much of a sacrifice. So, I went from easy things, to harder things, to adding as many harder things together as possible, in order to feel the sacrifice. (I actually did give up the NCAA tournament one year... AND my birthday cake – you have no idea how much I love cake).
Upon reflection and in all honesty, I think part of giving all that stuff up was also so that when THAT question was asked, even if I didn't “win” the righteousness game, I would at least finish strong.
Then one year for Lent, I gave up... Lent.