Christians are in the season called Lent right now. A time when some believers display acts of penance by giving something up for 40 days. The intent is to prepare the heart for the coming celebration of Jesus Christs’ victory over death. And for some, that involves sacrificially denying something important for 40 days.
Most who observe the ceremonial giving up of something choose a vice of some kind, a pleasure such as chocolate , soda or alcohol (which can be both) or activity…like Facebook. Practicing Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays. Lent is suppose to be a solemn time of inward reflection and penance. A time to understand the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.
So, does the fact that I don’t give up anything make be a less than authentic Christian? Obviously my answer is no.
I don’t have any issues with those who feel this practice brings them closer to God. If you want to fast, deny yourself for 40 days, put ashes on your head and “give up” something, that is fine with me. If it helps you in your walk, I’m all for it.
But don’t make a mockery of it.
What I do have issues with are those who give up something easy to ensure success; those who flaunt the fact that they are giving up something and remind others incessantly for…40 days. I also have issues with those who give up something because they think they’re suppose to, or because their church told them to. That’s a big one. Those that show their faithfulness this way miss the whole point of the exercise.
Though biblically inspired, Lent (like Advent) is a man-made season. The Council of Nicea established the 40-day season of Lent in 325AD. It’s a known fact that Christmas and Easter seasons were selected to coincide with pagan ceremonies so to mesh the traditions together. Sorry, that’s a fact. I’m the first in line to admit Christmas and Easter are favorite holidays, but the truth is, either you are blind to the calendar and carry those seasons in your heart all year, or you don’t. Anything less is Christian religiosity. And I have huge issues with that.
Back to man-made traditions. Like most man-made rituals, there is a tendency to simply go through the motions…to do it just because it’s always been done; to do it and not even think about the why. “What did you give up for Lent?” becomes more of a fashionable, status question…or worse…a pious one. And, true to form with man-made traditions, the rules tend to change. Over the centuries, the strict Lenten fasting and penance rules have been modified to make is easier…more palatable to our modern-day, cultural expectations. Special dispensations have even been granted to the Catholic no meat Fridays if St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday during Lent. Huh? Rules can be broken in light of a good corned beef? But that’s mankind for ya.
And what better example of twisting the purpose of the season is there than the reasons behind Carnival, Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday?! Okay, everyone, load up of everything decadent because you can’t have it for 40 days starting tomorrow! Fun? Absolutely. But, again, totally missing the point.
So, however you choose to observe Lent, do so with conviction; do so for reasons that have nothing to do with religiosity; do so because it spiritually inspires you. And just because someone hasn’t outwardly professed giving something up, don’t assume you’ve one-upped them.
But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:17–18 (ESV)
For more L-words from around the world, check out ABC Wednesday.