I grew up Baptist, a tradition that spurned Lenten observance as a vain, extra-biblical form of works righteousness. From what I understand, many Baptists are now getting in on the act (which is weird to me). I guess I still have a lot of old Baptist in me, because I’m not sold on abstaining from or “giving up” something for Lent.
I’m not against these practices; I’m only encouraging us to think through why we do them. Ask yourself: “What do I think I’m accomplishing?” Because the moment we think we’re accomplishing something by giving up chocolate or Facebook, or even genuinely fasting (from food), is the moment we’re undone by our pride. Or at least I am.
I think it’s better during Lent to focus instead on what we can’t do—on what we couldn’t do—on what only Jesus could do for us. Maybe Sarah Condon, in this post, agrees with me?
People often talk of Lent as a journey, a pilgrimage, a sort of celestial road trip. We come by this assessment honestly. There are 40 days of Lent because Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. And so, the thinking goes, we must be on our own sort of ascetic journey, filled with self-denial and hard earned betterment. So we have Lenten lunches of soup and bread. We give up the modern trinity: chocolate, chardonnay, and Facebook. And then we blog about it.
Hear me clearly. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t give up social media or vodka. I’m just suggesting you should go ahead and quit tomorrow in lieu of telling yourself that a Housewives of Atlanta moratorium is Lent-worthy. Because it is not. What Jesus did in the desert and what we attempt to do at Lent are almost wholly unrelated.
I would argue that Lent is not about us giving something up. In fact, it is not about our actions at all. Lent is a moment when we watch Jesus from afar. We are on the other side of the desert, watching him deny himself, bearing witness to his teachings and miracles, observing the disciples failing to stay awake, knowing that the agony of the cross is close at hand. Lent is not sad because we can’t eat carbs. Lent is sad because we are forced to watch the slow, deliberate movement of our Savior from his ministry to his cross. And it reminds us of our sin and our powerlessness over it.
We were not in the desert for 40 days fending off the devil and all manner of temptation. Jesus was. For us. Because we are sinners. And as such, we would have taken all the devil offered.
For what it’s worth, I’m very much sold on praying and reading the Bible more during Lent. Speaking of which, I like this recent tweet from fellow United Methodist pastor Talbot Davis: