Lent is Good for Me1
Lent may be the most Christian of the holidays. No stores have big Lent sales; no one pushes Lent decorations, tries to sell Lent books or hands out Lent jewelry. Lent does not lend itself to commercialism or emotion. Instead it calls for a long, self-reflective, obedience best practiced in community.
Lent lasts for 6 weeks, forty days giving you Sundays off. More than time enough for all the novelty to wear off. We might start with a bang: Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, but by the end of the first week, nobody but you cares how long it has been since you had a cup of coffee. The length becomes very inconvenient; it affects Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, March madness, and other good excuses for unnecessary indulgence.
Do any words describe the Christian life better than long and inconvenient? When Jesus commanded us to deny ourselves, he insisted upon inconvenience. When he said take up your cross daily and follow him, he surely meant the path would be long.
But over the years I have learned to adapt. The Christian life does not seem as inconvenient as it once did. I have a way of rationalizing everything I want, and molding my discipleship around any potential discomfort.
So Lent gives me time to reflect. That simple, innocent question, “What are you giving up this year?” digs at my heart. It implies that I need to give up something. Some otherwise innocent thing has taken up too much space, and has filled the void that Jesus alone should fill. Some good creation has become a crutch, and I am less aware of Christ’s absence from my life than I should be.
Do I pick up my IPhone when I should be listening to my kids? Has that one drink per night become something I need? Has the daily caffeine high become a necessary stimulant to push me through the day? Has chocolate taken on the role of comforter in my life? Has television become my joy?
Of course I cannot really answer these questions alone. I need someone else to tell me when I have spinach in my teeth. I need friends to tell me what they think I depend on too much. I need my wife to point out what destructive habits have crept in. She does not want to have that conversation, but Lent gives me the excuse to ask.
And once we have made our sacrifices, we walk through Lent together. We remind each other what we have given up. More importantly, we remind each other why we made the sacrifice. We ask, how does it feel to be caffeine free? We should add, “Isn’t Christ so much better than coffee?”
Then when Easter comes, and we celebrate Christ bringing life from the grave, this time he will bring coffee with him. And with every celebratory cup we will whisper, “Thank you.”