Rethinking Lent — But Seriously, Though

yayomg-buddy-the-elf-quiz-7Do you remember the movie Elf, when Buddy listed his main food groups? Candy. Candy canes. Candy corn. And syrup.

I’m get the feeling. I eat pretty healthy overall — low fat, lots of veggies, etc — but my sugar intake is definitely high. If I had to pull a Buddy and list my main food groups, they’d be Kale. Chocolate. Coffee. And marshmallows. (You saw kale in there, right? That should count for something.)

I’m basically a hummingbird when it comes to sugar consumption. But I am about to give up sugar for 46 days. And I’m scared out of my mind.

Tomorrow, for the first time in my life, I will be participating in Lent in a traditional sense. (Not flipping the script and ‘taking something on’ for 46 days, as many of my childhood pastors have advised. But legitimately identifying something I love and cutting it out of my life for a period of time, to switch my focus towards God.) If you’d told me I’d be doing this a year ago, I probably would have rolled my eyes. Or maybe even laughed at you.

But here I am, giving up desserts for Lent

That feels so strange to say. I’ve always looked at Lent with a very superior, self-righteous attitude. No one in my Protestant church emphasized it. If anything, we were warned of the dangers. BE CAREFUL if you’re going to give something up for Lent. MAKE SURE you’re doing it for the right reasons.

For example, don’t give up chocolate for Lent if all you’re hoping is to lose weight. The purpose of Lent is to give up something valuable to you, and fill the void left behind by seeking with fierce determination to know God more. But so many people get off track. Instead, view Lent as their second chance at a New Year’s Resolution. My January goal was a flop, why not try this? Or My church is asking me to give something up? Sweet. It’s pretty much killing two birds with one stone.

  1. Lent is built-in structure and motivation to go on a diet
  2. Plus, you look super-spiritual and religiously devout

i_say_a_little_prayer_for_youThis mindset (this hypocrisy) annoys me to no end. Lent becomes a gold mine for the hypocrites and the Holier-than-Thous. An epic Who Loves Jesus More? competition. I’ve made a habit of avoiding this stuff like the plague.

But this year, sticking with the same tried-and-true logic I’ve used since age 9 is starting to feel like a cop out. I’ve spent the better part of two decades of my life tossing out the entire practice of fasting for Lent just because a bunch of Christian’s hypocrisy leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And is that really fair?

Spiritual disciplines are designed to help us grow closer to God. They help us hear God’s guidance in our lives, in times when he can feel far away. They help us better comprehend just how caring, deeply loving, justice-seeking, stereotype-shattering, turn-the-world-and-everything-it-values-on-its-head our Christ really is.

workout-olsen-twinAnd I’ve never made disciplines a priority, because I don’t want to fall prey to Christian hypocrisy or legalism. Sure, that logic worked when I was a teenager. It worked in my early twenties.

But I’m at a different place in my faith. And I want more. I want God to get personal, to challenge, train and mold me in ways I haven’t been willing to explore before.

So tonight, I’m eating the last chocolate I’ll have until Easter morning. (Don’t talk to me during Valentine’s week. It’s going to be rough.) I bought a Kit Kat at lunch. Someone brought a cake to work today, and I had two pieces. I started eating an entire package of Marshmallow Peeps, until I started to feel sick…and I realized I probably won’t forget what they taste like in 46 days.

I hope this goes without saying, but the way I’m doing Lent isn’t the only way. In some church traditions, fasting means giving up meat, dairy and alcohol. Going without any (or all) of those would have sucked, but it wouldn’t have disrupted my life nearly as much as ditching dessert.

But I also know that making sweeping declarations of restraint isn’t the purpose. I’m giving up candy and sweets! Look at how ambitious I am! That’s a dangerous train of thought. Throughout these 46 days, I will have to pay close attention to my motives. This can’t just be about giving something up for the sake of giving it up.

aendp8fThe purpose of fasting for Lent is to cut out distractions, and chase after God with a new energy. Focusing on prayer, reading Scripture, trying to love and care for people like Jesus did … real, practical, daily changes to help put Christ more at the center of what I do.

Successfully giving up dessert for 46 days would prove I have self-control. But I won’t do much of anything to help grow in my faith. I’ll need to take on the challenge of pursing Christ — in big ways and small ways — every day.

I’m also not expecting to be perfect at it. I may cave and eat a cookie. I may forget and grab a handful of M&Ms. I may mess up, falter, fail or otherwise miss the mark.

I am not fasting for Lent in search of perfection. I’m trying to create a mindset that will cut through the clutter and help me be better in tune with Jesus.

If everyone who participates in Lent got a Fasting GPA, I probably won’t walk away with a perfect 4.0.

But I’m going to give this a try. I’m going to make Christ a priority in this new, different way. In a way that I know will challenge me. And I am really excited to see how God will show up in the (6.5) weeks to come.

 

 

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