Has Lent has become a type of diet? You give up something that’s bad for you for 40 days and then switch from famine to feast on Easter Sunday (and the Sundays in between if you cheat). You might even lose a few pounds or become a little less addicted to caffeine or Facebook in the process.
One year I gave up what seemed a great sacrifice, chocolate. Even being the chocoholic I am, self-discipline and yogurt-covered pretzels carried me through with little need to look beyond myself. I even thought I was becoming a better, less food-obsessed person because I began to crave the wondrous cocoa less. Retrospectively, I realize I missed the whole point of a fast.
I now see I have to be careful to monitor my intentions. Am I doing this just to see if I can make it through or to wean myself off a bad habit? Or is this a God-honoring sacrifice?
One thing I did have on target in my chocolate fast was that the most significant thing for me to sacrifice is food. TV, facebook, caffeine, music, whatever I can live without just fine (and it’s hard to give up the internet or reading when you have a job), but lunch, dinner, snack time, dessert, baking, cooking, food shopping, it’s all what I most look forward to everyday. And so when I go 24 hours (as long as I’ve ventured thus far) without eating, as I did once a week last Lent, every hunger pain reminds me that I am incessantly dependant on something, someone, beyond myself. It’s not comfortable, there are no yogurt-covered pretzels to substitute, and I certainly can’t do it on my own.
Another good Lenten discipline can be to take something on instead of giving it up. This year I’m thinking about setting aside extra time for prayer or daily writing notes to encourage people in my life. The Church Health Center in Memphis suggests taking on healthy eating and is blogging different healthy recipes.
Ash Wednesday, the official start of the Lenten season, is in two days. What are you considering taking on or giving up?
UPDATE: I just found a campaign called Wine to Water that encourages people to donate to water projects in Zimbabwe the money they would have spent on whatever they give up for Lent. Another great idea! This give site is in the UK, but you could easily easily calcuate the amount you are not spending and give it to whatever nonprofits you like to support.