If it’s Lent, which it is as of March 2nd, for me that means giving up sugar and often other indulgences. I know it’s not fashionable these days to take on a Lenten fast, and that the conversation is often about taking up something positive. That is, of course, a good thing. But I still plan on giving something up.
Last year, someone shared this prayer:
“Fast from judging others; feast on Christ in them.
Fast from wanting more; feast on being thankful.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from worry; feast on trust.
Fast from complaining; feast on enjoyment.
Fast from negatives; feast on positives.
Fast from stress; feast on prayer.
Fast from anger; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from fear; feast on truth.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from gossip; feast on silence.
Fast from fighting; feast on peace.”
There are other variations on that prayer–they all encourage good behaviours and habits and that is good. But I still plan on giving something up.
In the first place, it’s a habit that has been with me since childhood when we gave up candy during Lent. It was a competition between me and my siblings to see who could last the whole 40 days (actually if you count Sundays, it’s 45 days), so it brings me back to my roots. There’s also something concrete, something measurable about giving up something. You know when you don’t eat sweets. You don’t have to wonder if you have done what you intended.
On a more serious level, it’s what Jesus did. He went into the wilderness and fasted. It was a time of self examination and prayer. It prepared him for what was to come. Okay, giving up sugar is a pretty frivolous equivalent. However, it is a reminder: a reminder that sometimes, we need to deny ourselves.
Every time I look at a chocolate bar or a cookie or my favourite candy and I say to myself that no, I will not eat it, I am reminded of why I am doing this, I am reminded that this season of Lent is a time of preparation, a time to draw closer to God, a time to be more intentional about prayer, a time to remember that this Jesus whom we follow, spent time in fasting and prayer to prepare himself for the ministry that was to come. He would emerge from the wilderness to serve God, to care for others, to teach and to heal—and to preach the gospel.
If giving up something helps remind me that my call—our call—is to be disciples of Jesus, to follow his example, then it is no longer frivolous, even if it appears to be such at the outset. It really is a discipline and one discipline has the potential to lead to another, for example to the discipline of prayer or the discipline of service—and they are anything but frivolous.