Why you should (not) give something up for Lent

It’s that time of year again.

Time for the conversation at coffee hour to turn inevitably to the topic of what you are giving up for Lent this year. Time for you to excise sweets from your diet, to block Facebook from your internet, to drink decaf (shudder).

This could be a good thing. Or not. So like a forlorn lover plucking petals from a  petunia—He loves me, he loves me not—let me offer you an alternating series of reasons why you should, or should not, give something up (or take something on) this Lenten season.

Why you should: you want to draw closer to Christ. You have been convicted of a sin in your life that you want prayerfully to address throughout this season. You want to clear out clutter that is keeping you from seeing Jesus only. This is good. You should.

Why you should not: you want Jesus to love you more. You think that if only you could kick that smoking habit or stop watching TV, then the Lord would really dig you. If only you were more __________, Jesus wouldn’t give you the look of a disapproving father. WRONG. Jesus’ love for you is not contingent on your performance. You should not.

Why you should: you want to kick-start a godly habit. You would like to start praying with your spouse each night before bedtime. You want to begin giving offerings above and beyond your tithe to church. You want actually to use that devotional you got for Christmas. This isn’t just a 40-day fix, you hope, but a permanent fixture. Lent is a great time to start. You should.

Why you should not: you want to impress others with how spiritual you are. I doubt that many people start with this motivation—but check your heart. Do you just want something impressive to share during fellowship hour? Are you trying to call attention to your piety? In this case, the spiritual dangers for you outweigh the potential benefits. Better to exercise your Christian freedom and not give something up.

Why you should: you want to break the potentially idolatrous hold of something in your life. Remember the definition of idolatry: making a good thing into an ultimate thing. Sports, beer, music—none of these are inherently evil things. But perhaps the Spirit has shown you that it’s threatening to be “feared, loved, or trusted in” in a way that is unholy. You give it up, and call on the Lord whenever you feel that inevitable urge to check your Twitter feed (or whatever). You should.

Why you should not: you want to lose ten pounds, look good for spring break, etc. I had a friend in college who told me she was giving up eating between sun-up and sun-down for Lent. I told her she was confusing Lent with Ramadan. The really sad part is that I later learned that she was struggling with an eating disorder, and used religiosity to “baptize” her battle. If you want to lose a few pounds, diet and exercise—but don’t feel the need to bring God into it. You should not.

Why you should: you know you don’t have to, but recognize that spiritual discipline is a salutary component of the Christian life (yes, even for Lutherans). You should.

Why you should not: you think you have to. Nope. You should not.

Lent—like the rest of our faith—is ultimately not about what we have to do for God, but what God has done for us in his Son, Jesus. As the hymn puts it, “Nothing in my hands I bring, / simply to Thy cross I cling.”

Fix your eyes on Him, whether or however you fast during this season. He loves you.

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