It’s nearly a week after Ash Wednesday, and I still haven’t decided what I’m giving up for Lent. The beginning of the season always seems to sneak up on me. However, I’m not sure I’d be any closer to knowing what to give up if I’d thought about it for a week, or a month. I didn’t grow up in a church that emphasized this practice. I learned about it more fully in graduate school. I had a friend who gave up meat one year, cheese the next, and sugar the one after that. (Are you kidding me!? Aren’t those three major food groups? What’s left to eat?!) I’ve had friends give up television. (What are you supposed to do all night after work?) I gave up caffeine one year. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more tired… or cranky. I fasted one day a week another year… same result as the caffeine.
Lent is the season leading to Easter where we connect with Christ in His suffering. The 40 days of Lent represent the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning His ministry. We sacrifice something during this time as a way to draw closer to Jesus and share in His suffering. However, that has rarely been my experience in the past. For starters, there is this dilemma – so many options seem too difficult to give up and yet everything pales in comparison to the cross. Jesus gave His life for me and I’m wondering how to survive 40 days without Facebook. Then once I’ve selected something, instead of focusing on Jesus in the midst of the sacrifice, my thoughts tend to become consumed with whatever I’ve chosen to give up. I look for loopholes and then the legalistic side of me condemns and pours on the guilt when I slip up. As I study the life of Jesus, he didn’t sacrifice out of guilt. He didn’t look for loopholes to get out of it. And he certainly sacrifice out of legalism.
In fact, Jesus spoke out against those who condemned and those whose practiced legalism. The only people Jesus really every got seriously angry with were religious people – the Pharisees. He called them blind, a brood of vipers, and thieves. They were self-righteous and judgmental. They looked down on others because of their ability to live according to the rules in a way that others could not. Jesus showed everyone else he encountered kindness, gentleness, love, and compassion – including those the Pharisees refused to even associate with because they were “sinners”.
So I’ve decided that I’m giving up religion for Lent. I’m giving up the thing that angered him the most because it was the very thing that kept people from him. I’m giving up pride. I’m giving up judging others. I’m giving up false humility. I’m giving up selfishness. I don’t want to be a Pharisee anymore. Yes, I’ll fail during the next 40 days, but when I do, instead of pouring on legalistic guilt, I’m going to turn to Jesus knowing that He’ll meet me with the same love and compassion today that He showed sinners two thousand years ago. So I’m giving up religion for Lent so I can gain a closer relationship with Christ.
What have you decided to sacrifice or change during Lent this year? What comes to mind when you consider how Jesus treated people during His time on earth? What does Jesus’ sacrifice mean to you?