I remember as a kid committing to giving up outlandish things for Lent like caviar, escargot, and trips to Europe. I had never eaten caviar nor escargot and had never been to Europe, so that was an easy forfeiture. I’m pretty sure I missed the point. It wasn’t a sacrifice and it didn’t impact my daily walk with God at all.
Giving up (or picking up) something during Lent can enrich our faith practice, cultivate our sense of needing a savior, and show our families what God has accomplished for us in his death and resurrection. We draw attention to Christ's sacrifice as we change our pace and make intentional changes in our lives.
This week marks the beginning of the church's liturgical season called Lent. Historically, Lent is the 40 days preceding Easter, excluding Sundays. It begins with Ash Wednesday and marks a season of self-reflection on our human frailty and need for a savior. It's a period often characterized by self-denial, spiritual study, and simplicity. Often people commit to giving up something during the season of Lent. The reasoning behind giving something up for Lent is in part a reminder that we are needy people. Just as we need bread to live, even more we need a savior to give us eternal life. Another reason is that committing to a change of pace in our daily lives can have significant impact on our spiritual walk with God. In Luke 9:23 Jesus said to those listening to him that “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Denying ourselves something throughout the season of Lent can allow us to better follow Christ.
While the historical intent behind the season of Lent is purposeful, it has often lost that intent in our culture. It has become fashionable to give up something for Lent, maybe even making sure that what we give up is bigger and better than what others are giving up. Or we give up things as if it's a New Year's resolution or diet plan, more of a effort in self-improvement rather than a focus on the cross.
So what am I supposed to do during Lent? I asked myself this question last year about this time. I wanted to commit to something in my spiritual life that would lead to growth during the season of Lent. I was also pretty sure that giving up coffee or television wasn’t what I needed, either as a commitment or as a way to draw me closer to God. Here are some of the ideas that I came up with.
I know this is the standby, but it still does make sense. Depriving yourself of something that may take more of your time than it should or that gets in the way of your relationship with God isn’t a bad thing. It may be a vice that you have been trying to give up for years. It may be something simple that has begun to take too much time out of your daily schedule. Committing to giving something up can be a step in your relationship with God. But it is only a step. Giving something up for its own purpose isn’t really the point. Giving something up and taking the time that you would have spent on that certain thing and spending it with God instead is more to the point. Instead of watching a certain TV show each day, spend that time reading the Bible. Maybe the thing that you are giving up is going to be difficult. Rely on God through his word and prayer to help you give that certain thing up.
Maybe you have a desire to pray more or read the Bible more or even take one day a week and rest from work. Lent is an opportunity to add those things into your life that might be missing. It could be daily prayer time, or bible reading (see our Today devotional!) It could be family devotions at the table instead of meals in front of the TV. Additions can have a deep impact on your daily walk with God.
God is so many things. He is love and justice and mercy and so much more that we may have only begun to understand. Last year I read Genesis 1:1 and realized that the first thing we learn about God in the Bible is that he is creative. I am not a creative person, and felt like I needed to learn more about our creative God. So I committed to doing one act of creativity each day. I learned so much about God and about who he created me to be during those 40 days of creativity. I learned to rely on him for opportunities to be creative. I also learned to rely on God for affirmation and not on myself or others. I loved learning about our creative God so much that I have continued to do creative things much more regularly than I used to as a way to express who our creative God is and who he created me to be. Maybe you want to explore God’s justice. Commit to doing an act of service or justice each day throughout Lent and see what God teaches you about his character. Explore God's characteristics as a family and look for ways that you can reflect his image to your community.
Maybe your Lent commitment is as simple as asking God each day what he wants to show you about himself or about who he created you to be or what your place is in the world. Commit to asking God each day a specific question and then listen for his answer. Pray this together as a family each morning and talk about your God sightings at the end of the day.
Talk together about how your family might give up a distraction or pick up a spiritual practice that helps your family to see Jesus more clearly this year. Maybe your family can spend time together each day in prayer using a page of your school or church directory to pray for the people in your life. Turn off the TV early and take time to read through one of the gospels during Lent to hear God's story together. There are lots of ways to get intentional about getting close to God.
Changing something small in our lives throughout the season of Lent can lead to big changes in our walk with God. Our fast paced lives tend to lead us away from God and not towards him. Making some small change of pace by getting rid of something that hinders us or adding something that teaches us can lead to a big impact on our life with God. I’m excited to learn more about who God is and what he did for me in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ this Lenten season. I pray your family will grow closer to him this season as well.