The season of Lent began last week on Wednesday the 18th. Lent is a season in the Christian Church in which people are called to reflect on who they are and who God calls them to be. The season is 40 days long leading up to Easter. (40 is a pretty popular number in the Bible.) Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. We then, also walk through that wilderness to figure out who we are.
One way in which some people observe Lent is to give something up. It’s a sacrifice. We give up chocolate, alcohol, ice cream, etc.
One year I gave up meat. I did so because I had realized how unconsciously I ate meat. Church pot luck and a box of Bojangle’s? I’m eating it. Thanksgiving dinner turkey? Yes, please.
It was quite an interesting experiment. One day I was in a hurry running errands, so I thought I’d just run through a drive-thru somewhere. But where? One night we were going out to dinner with friends, and one suggested a German restaurant. We were all in agreement until one person remembered that I gave up meat. I said it was fine. They said we could go someplace else. I said it was fine. They suggested Chinese. I said the German place was fine. They tried to think of another option. My wife said I was fine. We went to the German place.
Their consideration didn’t really matter anyway. See, we have a men’s group that meets on Thursday mornings in my church. One volunteer brings a topic to discuss, and another brings food for the group. That year I went to church on Ash Wednesday, went home, got up the next morning, and headed to the men’s group. It was not until I was crumpling up the wrapper from my Chick Fil-A biscuit that I realized, DAMN! 12 hours! I only made it 12 hours!
Now people give up some interesting things for Lent. Someone very close to me gave up Chick Fil-A on Sundays (very cheeky). Many people give up their go-to comfort, be it wine, chocolate, ice cream, fast food. I had someone in a youth group one time who gave up eating with utensils for Lent.
And this is where the disconnect comes in.
Over the last 2,000 years people have made the Christian faith into a system of transactions. God did this for us, and now we do this for God. Christ did this for us, and now we do this for Christ. It’s as though there is a ledger, keeping track of our good and bad deeds, and we need to bring that account into balance. If you take that view of the Christian faith, then Lent seems awfully silly.
Jesus gave his life for the sins of the world. I give up Sierra Nevada for 40 days, and now we’re even.
Not exactly, because Lent is not about the transaction. Lent is about remembering who we are, and who we belong to. When I give up something, it’s not about trying to square me with Jesus. It’s about reminding me of Him; it’s about paying attention.
Refraining from those things that bring me comfort isn’t about trying to equate my suffering with His. It’s not about trying to balance my account. It’s just that refraining serves as a very real reminder of Christ and his presence in my life.
You can call it goofy. Maybe people with more faith don’t need those reminders. But I’ll take it. I’ll take all the help I can get.