“So, what are you giving up for Lent?” I have heard this question posed for as long as I can remember. And my responses have included a variety of things. When I was younger, I might have said, “I am giving up being mean to my little brother,” or, “I am giving up licorice.” When I was in college, I might have said, “I am giving up procrastinating,” or, “I am giving up red meat.” After college, I might have said, “I am giving up beer,” or, “I am not going to yell at my players.” In my young adulthood, I might have said, “I am giving up fried food,” or, “I give up making excuses for not asking that bright, beautiful red-head out for a date.”
My most recent pledges include, “I give up eating after 9:00PM.” “I’m really trying to give up eating pasta and breads.” “I need to seriously consider giving up technology and give up on figuring out all of the hullaballoo regarding hash tagging this and tweeting that…” And “I’m going to give up being lateJ.”
All of these are well and good, and they may move me closer to God, but not really. These “Give ups” don’t really arrive at the core of the issue. Giving up almost sounds defeatist.
Part of the Lenten experience includes balancing things. In addition to considering and practicing fasting, we are called to pray and exercise self-denial by reading and by meditating on God’s Word. In order for us (for me) to move closer to God, I have to give in.
As I kneeled at the altar this past Wednesday, the Priest placed his hand on my head, bore the sign of the cross with his ash-covered thumb with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Perhaps there is a more clear way to communicate that we are temporal beings on this earth and that I am no better than my brother, sister, anything or anyone; but I’m not so sure. That is a pretty blunt statement.
Giving in means having to give up those things that interfere with us becoming what God intends. True, sometimes this means food. But it also means shedding those mannerisms, behaviors and elements of our humanity that prevent us from making ourselves and the communities in which we live more whole. Giving in means letting go of ego, of pride, of selfish perspectives, and prejudices. Giving in means listening more, being more patient, allowing other voices to be heard; giving in means having faith and taking time to listen to that still, quiet inner voice; giving in means placing a priority on time for prayer and reflection, and believing there is light in a dark, dark world.
In their simplest forms, the practices which we are called to exercise during Lent are hard. These practices challenge us to take time from all of our worldly distractions, to pause, to reflect, to pray and consider things we need to change to become closer to God. Giving time to this process is hard, but necessary. Giving credence to the substance of Lent takes faith. Giving time, faith, energy and purpose to these practices takes discipline commitment and patience. And none of this means we are perfect or holier than thou.
And I am not suggesting that we carry the guilt of the world on our shoulders. That isn’t healthy, by any stretch of the imagination, and I do not believe that is what He is calling us to do.
While we often confuse Lent with giving up, I contend that the more we move toward giving– a giving heart, a giving spirit, a giving purpose, the more we move closer to what He intends.
God gave us His Son in human form, so that we might learn from Him. And in spite of His clear teaching, and as a result of our humanity, we fall short each and every day. The more we consider Lent in light of giving, the more we reflect the better parts of our humanity. I have a long list of things on my list to give up; I think I’ll start with the simple reminder that I have a lot to learn.
“For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
And will make me understand wisdom secretly…
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51)