Something has been bothering me for a few years now. During Lent, many Christians give up something they enjoy or consider important to their lives — chocolate, smoking, wine, playing video games, posting on Facebook — for 40 days to make a sacrifice as a form of solidarity with Jesus who went into the desert and fasted for 40 days. Luke 9:23 reads: Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Lent is a time of fasting and abstinence and the faithful go without something in order to commemorate (and hopefully understand) the sacrifices Jesus made in the desert. Such abstinence will bring us into closer fellowship with Jesus.
Okay, I get it. In the past, I have given up (with dubious results) everything from sweets to smoking to watching television shows. As a child, my family never ate meat on Fridays during Lent (actually, never on Friday all year round) and had little meat at all during the pre-Easter season. And you know what? Giving up something never made me feel closer to God. I understand the whole idea, but it always seemed kind of … oh, I don’t know … showy to me.
Then I heard someone on a radio show make an offhand remark about Jesus spending 40 days in the desert in preparation for his ministry. The Holy Spirit sent Jesus to the desert to reflect, to be tested by temptations (three times by Satan), and to feel what the Israelites had felt while wandering for forty years in the desert. He did all this while fasting in order to prepare him to lead followers and remain strong in the face of adversity. No, he did not pack a lunch, but the purpose of the sojourn was not just to do without but to go within himself and prepare himself for his ministry which was revolutionary — it broke down social barriers (love thy neighbor regardless of their tribe or place of origin) and offended the current religious status quo — and would require great sacrifice and strength on his part.
So while Lent is a period of fasting, abstinence, and alms giving, it is also a time of preparation. Preparing to live a more fuller life in Christ requires reflection, reassessment, and possibly adjustment of your purpose and path and how you live your days. It may include ditching some habits and thoughts. It could mean more time spent in prayer or time spent in more deeper prayer. We might want to look at how we give alms and to whom and how we incorporate our beliefs into our daily lives. And while we might benefit from abstaining from those things that make us feel too comfortable, Lent is more than just giving up your morning coffee or chocolate cookies for 40 days, only to happily resume old ways once Easter rolls around.