For the past few years, I've been trying to be very intentional on giving something up for lent. When I was younger, I never gave anything up because I felt that the practice was somehow legalistic, and that God really doesn't care whether or not we give something up. After thinking about it, year after year after year, it became clear to me why such a practice is important to our faith. I think the truth is, all those years that I was making excuses, I was actually just really lazy.
For 40 days, we are asked to give something up that we've placed as an idol in our lives. It isn't supposed to be easy. I know many who've given up peas because they aren't going to eat them anyway... Whether or not these people are serious is another story, but the point I'm making still stands - If you give up something that's easy to give up, why bother? Like last year, I plan on giving up sweets. This is a big deal for me, especially because I can barely go a day without a giant bowl of ice cream. Last year, I lost six pounds by giving up sweets (along with semi-regular exercising), and I felt like a healthier, more physically and spiritually fit person because of it. Now, what constitutes as a sweet? Well, I'm not going to have any dessert. I won't drink any pop. I won't snack. I won't eat candy. I won't even grab a doughnut from the hospitality table in church. I just plan on abstaining from sweets for the entire 40 day period. However, I am allowing myself 1 grace day a week where I can have something sweet, within reason. This will keep me focused on my goal, while still feeling blessed with God's goodness and grace.
There are many benefits to fasting. Giving up something for lent is like replacing one idol for a little more of God. Now, while that alone is worth the bore and the irritation of fasting, I also believe it helps to put me in tune with Christ's suffering. Our idols become a part of us. We allow them to own us, and being ripped away from them causes us to suffer. We feel as if we can't go on, as if we can't make it another day without that part of us that we crave. For me, it's as if I'm right there with Jesus as he's hanging on the cross. I can easily see his suffering, his weakening, his breaking... because to a much lesser extent, I'm suffering too. And isn't that the nature of creation? We suffer because things aren't as they were intended. Our suffering is a cry out to God. Jesus is our answer, letting us know that God hears.
None of this is to downplay Jesus' suffering. Not eating sweets is nothing like bleeding and suffocating while hanging on a cross. Though the symbolism behind it has a vast spiritual impact.
What are you giving up for lent?