This oft asked question was prominent in our household in the springtime while I was growing up. The common “give-ups” were candy or soda, sometimes TV. I would have liked to give up washing dishes after dinner, but Mom said that you weren’t supposed to give up something you disliked. Bummer.
Lent is practiced by many denominations. It is the approximately 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Even though the emphasis can be on the giving up, there is really more to it than that.
The tradition of Lent is traced back to Jesus’ time in the desert when he spent 40 days fasting and praying before beginning his public ministry. It was from these roots that the church came to realize the importance of giving up in order to prepare for Easter, to grow, and to renew.
I have to admit the part of Lent that I often missed was the math that is involved in it. Yes, I said math. See, when you give something up for Lent it is meant to open time in your life for other things like prayer. In subtracting an item or activity from our lives we should then add the opportunity for growth, repentance, and renewal.
Without the math, lent is just a time of depriving ourselves of something we want. Often times when it’s just deprivation we go right back to the thing we sacrificed to begin with. As a child it was common to find any one of us who had given up candy begging Mom for just one piece of the Easter candy before breakfast. I found for me that was because I was more focused on the subtracting than on the adding.
Our sacrifices during this time can never equal the ones he offered when he left the glory of heaven. Or when he hung on that cross and breathed his last. They can never be of the same magnitude to his spending 3 days in hell before ascending to heaven. Our offerings are minor compared to his, but they teach us a little more about the incredible love that endured sacrifice for us. They encourage us to lean into him and rely on his strength and not our own.
That really is what Lent is about, allowing the preparation to change us and learning to appreciate the magnitude of sacrifices that God made through Jesus. He did so because he loves us that much. In light of that, doesn’t the TV or the chocolate seem like a minor thing to do without? Our love for him should drive us to want to give up so we can be more of the person he created us to be. It should cause us to want to sacrifice in order to be closer and more in tune with him. It should grow our relationship to new levels of intimacy.