Anderson: The most important thing to give up this Lent (column)
Mardi Gras. Who doesn’t love a party?
Fat Tuesday. Pancakes? Yes. Please.
Ash Wednesday. Worn like a badge of honor.
40 days of Lent. Give up chocolate. For a day or two. Then, consign the idea of sacrifice to an outdated Medieval practice for illiterate churchgoers. Go back to eating chocolate, attending Mass once a week, and console my conscience with the promise that I will attend the midnight Easter Vigil service.
Last year, I was a bit more ambitious. For Lent I vowed to give up my nightly glass of red wine. I would also read one Psalm everyday in order to encourage a habit of daily Bible reading and prayer.
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Abstaining from red wine lasted 48 hours.
However, reading a daily Psalm lasted for the entire period of Lent. A year later, reading my Bible and spending quiet time with God in prayer has become an integral part of each day.
So, as I approached Lent this year, I wanted to give more thought to the meaning of Lent. Why are we asked to give something up? How does this sacrifice give meaning to our relationship with God?
Traditionally, Lent is meant to replicate the sacrifice of Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the desert, which culminated with the temptation by the devil. When we choose to give up something we hold dear for Lent, we share the sacrifice of Jesus to practice detachment from things of this world. Instead, we focus on Jesus’ journey from his baptism in the Jordan river, his ministry, the sacrifice of his death and the miracle of his resurrection.
When we consider our Lenten sacrifice, we often choose an appetite that is also a weakness or an indulgence. Hence, chocolate.
However, I believe we can gain a deeper understanding of Lent, by considering the three things that the devil chose to tempt Jesus.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.
7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.”
10 For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[e]” – Luke 4:1-13
These represent three basic motivations in human life: health, wealth and happiness.
As essential as each of these pursuits are, they can take our attention from God and our relationship with one another. When food and drink become gluttony, it can wreck our health. The blind pursuit of wealth and power can lead us to do things which are unethical or immoral. Our singular pursuit of happiness can cause us to overlook the needs of others.
If you’ve already given up on whatever you promised to give up for Lent, I’d like to encourage you to give your Lenten journey a second chance.
When you fast from a meal, donate cans from your pantry to the local food bank. If you are a business person, ‘give up’ a few hours of your time to help a new entrepreneur. If you have an athletic or creative talent, teach someone who might make it a healthy new habit. Love to cook? Show someone how to create a meal they can enjoy with their family. In other words, let your sacrifice of time make someone else’s life better.
Most importantly, embrace the next 40 days as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with God. Spend 15 minutes each day, reading the Bible and speaking with God in prayer.
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