This Lent I’m giving up Lent
When I first came to faith I was excited to make all the spiritual practices my own. Every year, I would choose something to forgo. At first I gave up the obvious things like wine or sweets, and experienced the feeling of my 6-week successes as transcendence. In retrospect, my delight was probably more akin to pride. The hardest sacrifice I ever made was the year I gave up my nightly soak in a hot tub—something many would consider a foolish luxury, but which, to me, is like breathing. The enormity of this abstention made a big impression on my kids, inspiring them to give up big things, too: without me even saying a word, my son—in the prime of his early teens—gave up Playstation 2. For forty days and forty nights!
As the years went on, I graduated to character issues like giving up the expressing of strong opinions. I think I did that several years in a row. It helped. It served a purpose. As did the year I gave up the using of any plastic bags ever, anywhere—even if I left them in my car; for Lent I went back out and got them. And of course, I jumped on board with the whole wave of new Lenten practices that invite people not to eliminate something but rather to pick something up: daily prayers, reading, or Bible study, typically. But as these were already part of my daily routine it was only a matter of amounts.
I started thinking about what I wanted to do this year for Lent way back in January. It wasn’t until this morning that I knew: I’m giving up Lent. Not because it’s not a beautiful practice or that good can’t come from it or that we don’t need rituals to shape our year, but because of the 3 Solae. Sola Gratia. Sola Fides. Sola Scriptura. Grace Alone. Faith Alone. Scripture Alone. These are the foundation of the faith and I’m not sure we honor this foundation by putting so much emphasis on something that is not Scriptural. Unlike other church practices such as Baptism and Holy Communion, there is simply nothing about Lent in the Bible. It is not commanded, nor required. It is not even mentioned.
Yes, we can say that we are seeking to follow the model of the forty days that Jesus retreated to the wilderness to fast and pray and overcome temptation in preparation for His ministry, but this is all we’re ever asked to do. To follow Jesus’ example, day in, day out. Maybe if the church actually incorporated the part about empowering each of us for a new ministry then Lenten sacrifice would take on new potency. But I’ve never heard a peep from anyone, anywhere, about using the time to prepare to launch something—to set out, to start new—after Easter. Typically, Easter is a glorious day of Hallelujah! and He is Risen! followed by a rush to indulge in the thing that was given up, followed by, well, not much at all until the next burst of excitement at Pentecost.
This does not take away from the beauty of being reminded on Ash Wednesday that “from dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return” (Gen. 3:19). Or the power of the witness of walking through the day with ashes on your forehead, an act that never fails to start a conversation. And if we experience a deepening in our commitment to Jesus by incorporating a sacrificial or enriching act as a discipline in the days that lead us to the Cross, then it is a wonderful practice, to be sure. Maybe I’ll join you again next year.
But for now, for me, as I celebrate my 20th year as a believer, I think I’ll live and breathe and have my being in, with, and through the season of Lent in Christ Alone. “For freedom, Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1).
Soli Deo Gloria