I knew it was Ash Wednesday when my Facebook feed filled up with things people were giving up for Lent: chocolate, coffee, elevators, meat, and so on. But I noticed something missing in the announcements that made me chew on the purpose of Lent.
Lent is the 40-day period that culminates with the Saturday of Holy Week and is a time of preparation for Easter Sunday. (The Sundays during Lent are excluded, otherwise it’d be 46 days.) Lent is a period recognized by millions of Protestant Christians, in addition to Catholic and Orthodox believers.
The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, repentance of sins, giving to the needy, atonement and self-denial. Tradition has held that three practices occur with renewed vigor during Lent: prayer (justice toward God), fasting (justice toward self), and almsgiving (justice toward neighbors). Now, in modern times, observers give up an action of theirs considered to be a vice and in its place add something that is considered to be able to bring them closer to God.
When you look at what I’ve just shared, can you identify what I’ve noticed has been missing in people’s Lenten posts? It’s a really easy three-letter word: God. It’s replacing the vice with a spiritual discipline to once again align a person’s focus on God.
I am given pause as to why Believers are even announcing their self-denial during Lent. Consider Matthew 6:16-18: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
The things given up for Lent may not be for fasting purposes, but the concept is the same. If we are giving something up to be replaced by a renewed focus on God, why are we highlighting this self-denial? Without mentioning the trade-off, perhaps our focus should be on highlighting that reconnection with God. Our Facebook posts could be: “Today in my Bible reading I learned…” or “In our small group, we’re going to collectively look at _____.” We should be removing the focus from self and placing that focus squarely on God.
I recognize that giving up anything you like for 40 days is difficult, and I applaud those who do so. However, when it is associated with Lent, don’t lose focus on what matters. The point of Lent is not to give up chocolate; it’s to give up sin! May this season of Lent draw you closer to our Creator as we remember the journey that took Christ to the cross as the blood offering for our salvation.