Lent is upon us again and the whole ‘I’m going to give up chocolate’ social media boasts are presented to me like a red rag to a bull. There are mainly dangers and only some benefits with the whole Lent malarkey. Let me explain…
I grew in an Easter Orthodox environment where the feast fasts (preceding the main Christian festivals) were very common. The ‘big idea’ is that you follow a dietary program for 6 weeks usually in which you sacrifice some of the pleasant food items. While there might be health benefits to living a a more frugal, fat and sugar free lifestyle – I’m not sure about it’s spiritual benefits.
It can at time breed a sense of earning your stripes with God, a sense of spiritual superiority as we compare ourselves with others, followed by a deep sense of shame, when we fail to keep our own made made rules.
If you want to give up chocolate – just do that without dressing it up as a spiritual practice.
Because I don’t want to be just another narky contrarian – here are a couple of redemptive ways of using Lent for your spiritual development.
Detox your relationships. We accumulate so much unforgiveness and indifference in our relationships – so how about letting go of all those feelings. Why not starting to name and shame those feelings and attitudes. bring them to the light and let the truth expose their toxic ugliness. Take time to ponder on God’s stunning grace and forgiveness. Read repeatedly Matthew 18:21-35. Pray and release your hurt, anger and pain to God – asking Him to enable you to forgive and love.
Start, instead of sacrifice. What about starting something rather than giving-up. Start reading, either a couple of good Christian books as well as the Bible. Start to serve others in your family with an extravagant affection. Volunteer for a new cause in your local community. Offer to do some hands-on practical work at the church. Start to visit or host some of the lonely people around you. Start to offer to babysit for some of your friends so they can get a much needed evening out.
Don’t travel through this season with an introspective outlook but keep looking up (to His beauty and for His glory) and looking out – allowing your life to be an overflow of His grace displayed so vividly at the Cross.
Most importantly, aim to see this is a kickstarter, a habit-forming catalyst that is there to stay. If you only see it as a 40 day project – it’s benefits won’t be as great as a season that leads to a lifestyle.