They will do it in the name of fasting. The idea of giving up something for Lent has taken on a certain cultural cache. It is a strange phenomenon in our culture of overindulgence. On the surface, it seems like a good thing. Self-denial, even of menial or luxuriant things, is a much overlooked virtue. So we can applaud all of those that, in the name of God or their faith, are trying to give up something for Lent.
I just want to add a word of caution. Don’t let your giving something up for Lent replace an actual relationship with the living God. And don’t let your sense of piety over giving up something for Lent keep you from taking a hard look at what God really wants us to be doing.
This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families. (Isaiah 58:6-7)
We need to be careful. It is great to do something for God. It is great to remember the sacrifice that Christ made for us. Just do it for the right reasons. Don’t get caught up in the cultural trend of giving something up without also trying to take something up. We give things up to make room to take things up. Give up something that is getting in the way of your relationship with God. Give something up that is getting in the way of the Kingdom.
Give up chocolate. Give up chocolate that is made on the backs of the working poor. Give up chocolate that enslaves children and puts them in dangerous working conditions. Give up Hershey. And take up Fair-Trade chocolate.
Give up facebook. And take up a pen and piece of paper and a stamp, and write a note to a teacher, a friend, a loved one, someone sick, or someone lonely.
Give up TV. And take up conversations. Take up stronger relationships. Take up the Bible. Take up prayer.
Give up oppression. Give up resentment. Give up fear. And take up justice. Take up reconciliation. Take up love.
Mark your forehead with ashes – not to take up shame and guilt. Mark your forehead with ashes – and take up your inheritance as a child of God. Take up your task to do the work of Christ. Mark the start of your journey to the cross, so that when you get to Easter, you can look back and know that this Lent, you did something with God. Then sing “Hallelujah, The Kingdom has come.”