The season of Lent is upon us. Truthfully, I don't remember having my attention drawn to Lent before I was in college. At least, I don't remember anyone encouraging me to give anything up for this period of time. The first time I participated in this season was in the mid-nineties, and I gave up chocolate. If you know me at all, you know how serious this is. I did it, though, and I learned a good deal from it. I also celebrated the end of the season with some amazing chocolate cheesecake, but that's not what this is about.
I haven't necessarily participated in Lent every year since then, but I have had a few seasons of intentionally fasting from something in order to allow more room for God to replace it with something else. Last year I fasted from Facebook, which was significant for me. However, if someone sent me a direct message through Facebook, I did reply to them. I just didn't go perusing through all the other options. Although I feel that Facebook is a really effective communication and reconnecting tool, I do realize that there is much temptation to waste time on it. So I gave that up for Lent last year, and it was good for me. It helped me have a greater perspective on my priorities.
Over the last few days Kevin and I have been talking with our kids about Lent and the purpose it serves. Though we aren't pressing them to give up anything, we asked them to think about it. Callie has already decided to give up carbonated drinks. She doesn't drink them that often, but she really enjoys them. So I thought this was a good choice for her. Caleb and Katie are still contemplating it. Katie just knows that she will not be giving up her baby dolls, as Caleb suggested!
When I think of Lent, I can't help but think of one of my very favorite movies--Chocolat! If you haven't seen it, please take the time to do so. You won't regret it. In the movie, the characters deal with Lent, legalism, pride, appearances, and intolerance. Quite the heavy subjects. And I believe that, in the end, each of the characters has learned and grown in some way. Watch it. If you've already seen it, watch it again. I plan to.
I think that what we give up for Lent is not nearly as important as why we give it up. It needs to be something that really matters to us--something that holds our time and attention--something we long for. Then when we withhold this thing from ourselves, we need to turn those longings and desires and attention specifically toward God. However, it's not a contest of our wills; it's a shaping of our hearts. It's an awakening and a realization of the things that we let cloud our vision in this life, which may or may not be the thing we are choosing to abstain from during this season. In fact, I think that if we are choosing a "bad" thing in our lives to abstain from during Lent but then have every intention of going right back to it starting on Easter Sunday, then nothing at all has been gained from the experience.
There are some very good things from which we can abstain during these weeks that are okay to be missed and okay to pick back up on Easter. And that thing is different from person to person. The decision is a private one between God and individuals, and we should not judge each other for "picking something easy." Nor should we think highly of ourselves for "picking something hard." These weeks are to serve as time for personal reflection, the abstinence to serve as that constant reminder of Christ's sacrifice and His love for us.
Maybe we should do this more often.