"Giving Up" for Lent
By Pastor Chris Duckworth
There’s something perfect about coming back to church after a year-long deployment only to return at the start of Lent – that purple season of fasting and discipline, of repentance and renewal.
It might seem easier if I came back during the months-long green season – the church’s “ordinary time,” as it is sometimes called. Or to get back in the saddle at Advent and Christmas, when we sing “Joy to the world!” and light candles in the midst of the dark and cold.
But nope. I return from a deployment in the desert – where I led a somewhat spartan lifestyle that inspired me to reflect on the lives of those early monks who fled to the desert to live in isolation and self-denial – to a season that is modeled as a sort of desert journey itself, a period of self-denial and discipline in obedience to the One who calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.
Typically we speak of “giving up” things for Lent – soda, chocolate, meat. I once gave up music with a beat, listening to nothing but Gregorian Chant for all of Lent (strictly speaking chant does have a beat, but nothing like that of my favorite 80’s dance tunes).
And while we talk about “giving up” for Lent, pastors – myself included – often try to nuance and broaden the Lenten theme. We pastor-types often want to expand Lent’s discipline so that it’s not just about “giving up” a beloved (and perhaps unhealthy) food, but instead about “taking on” a discipline that would draw us closer to God and neighbor.
Meh. I’m usually one for nuance – but not this year.
After a year of giving up all kinds of things for the deployment – time with family, chairs that are comfortable, good coffee, civilian clothing, Diet Pepsi, pleasant restrooms, control over my schedule, and more – I came to a new level of appreciation for the value of “giving up” stuff, “giving up” aspects of my life. Learning to live without certain amenities or comforts or everyday familiar things led me to spend more time both within myself – in my head and my heart, examining myself – and time beyond myself – in touch with God and with those around me. In those times I wrestled, I struggled, I grew … and for that wrestling, struggling, and growth I am grateful.
What makes Lent different than a deployment, of course, is that I can cheat during Lent. No matter how hard I looked there were no comfortable chairs on deployment. I have comfortable chairs at home, and even in my office. If I give up comfortable chairs this Lent, it’ll take some effort – and a whole lot more standing.
It was easy to give up Diet Pepsi on deployment because it was all but impossible to find. Here, I can buy cases of the stuff at Kroger.
So after a year of forced discipline, I am now looking at a season of self-imposed discipline for the sake of examining myself, my God, and my neighbor. If I stand more often those times will be opportunities to reflect on my sisters and brothers who are standing at Syria’s border with Turkey, aching for the comfort of life without bombs.
If I refrain from drinking soda it will be a chance to drink more water and consider the living water of eternal life that my Lord offers me and this world that he so loves (John 4).
If I give up meat – even if just on Fridays, for example – I can do so to share in a centuries-old tradition of obedience and witness to the church’s allegiance to God rather than to our own bellies and desires.
I encourage you to give something up this season, and in so doing to spend more time within yourself, and beyond yourself. Yet however you mark Lent, my prayer is that you would draw closer to God and to the world that God so loves during this sacred season.