Should You Give Up Lent for Lent?
I never heard much about Lent as a kid. It wasn’t something my church taught or my parents modeled. It was more something I heard snatches of now and then when random people said things like, “Chocolate? No, I gave that up for Lent.” Now and then I wondered if it was something I should be doing, but that thought usually drifted away.
This year we scheduled a Grace Gathering for Wednesday, February 10. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it except in a conversation with a young mom, she told me she probably couldn’t come to GG because Lent started that day. For her, adding one more thing was just too much for an already-intense day.
What’s Up With Lent?
It got me to thinking, “What’s up with this Lent thing?” I thought hard about it on my own and pondered it in our staff meetings together and became curioser and curioser until we decided to do something unusual. We would take an informal survey asking people what Lent means and why they participate (or don’t). Maybe that would help us decipher this Lent thing some more. Here are a few of the things we heard:
Hearing this made the whole Lent thing whisper “performance” to me. Okay, so I don’t believe that every person who gives up something for Lent thinks that. But as I heard the responses of these random people, it struck me that a lot of the motivation seems to come from the “It’s what good Christians do” or “I want to be a better Christian” place. That’s a recipe for a chocolate cake frosted with creamy guilt if I ever saw one!
A Real-Life Lent Story
In the middle of all of this, a friend told me her story:
I grew up in a Catholic church, so Lent was something that was taught to me and something that I was expected to do each year leading up to Easter. In my mind it’s what all the “godly” people did, so if I didn’t participate, I wasn’t a very good Christian. I viewed Lent as a time to prove to God and to others what a great Christian I was and a time to show how much I was willing to sacrifice for Christ.
We eventually switched churches, and I grew and matured in my faith. Each year when Lent rolled around, though, I still felt this obligation to participate. And I found myself feeling very guilty if I didn’t follow through with it.
The guilt finally made me realize something wasn’t right. I shouldn’t feel guilty for not giving up something good for God. Good works don’t determine how much God loves me. Nothing I can do can make Him love me any more or any less. Now if that’s not freeing, I don’t know what is! Since coming to this realization, I’ve decided not to participate in Lent anymore, and do you know what the best part is? No more feeling guilty!
The Lent Conclusion
I guess what all of the surveying and stories prove is that Lent is really no different than anything else in the Christian life – it all comes down to heart motivation. Sure there are people who find Lent helpful. Sure there may be times when it’s a good thing. But there are other places where Lent is just a recipe for “do this to be godly” or an attempt to work our way further into God’s favor.
Like my friend said at the end of her story, “I’m not going to sit here and tell you whether you should participate in Lent or not.” But maybe hearing these stories will at least help us process our own Lent thoughts and discover whether Lent is serving us or guilting us. If it’s the latter, we probably better give up Lent for Lent!