We are almost through the Lenten season and I’m not sure what I’ve given up.
When asked, I said, “jogging.” But I think I gave that up at birth, so it hardly counts. I asked a few Facebook friends if they were giving anything up for Lent and if so, why. They didn’t exactly flock to participate, but I did get two replies – one yes and one no. My daughter didn’t reply because she has given up Facebook for Lent.
Since Lent was not part of my growing up experience, I had to do a little research. According to Wikipedia, Lent is "the Christian observance of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday. The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, alms-giving, and self-denial.”
I suspect one reason my church has not embraced Lent is the “penance” aspect of it. Since we believe Jesus Christ took all the payment for our sin, there is no need for penance. To think we could somehow “add to” his sacrifice is not only impossible, it insults God and makes less of what Jesus did.
In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said, “Mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind, but to produce a new kind of man.”
But there are aspects to the observance of Lent besides penance. Giving up something we enjoy but don’t need can make us more grateful, more aware of others who live without, and more mindful of how we use our time. Replacing habits with prayer is a productive and healthy idea.
Some young people seem to have it right. Here are some thoughts shared by Catholic youth when asked what they were doing for Lent:
“One year for Lent I wrote a letter each day. I made a list of 40 people who have touched my life in one way or another. Each day of Lent, I wrote a person on the list a letter of thanks for how they touched my life and I prayed for that person on that day. It was a wonderful experience!” – Patty
“I tried improving on my spirit of giving.” – Peter
“I gave up my pillow. Honestly, at first it was fun, but it proved to be hard. But it made me realize how blessed I am to even have a bed.” – Sara
As for my Facebook friends, the one who was not giving up anything for Lent believed the idea was to give up something that was more important to him than God. Since nothing was more important, there was nothing to give up.
The other, an American, decided to give up political news (not easy in an election year!) and spend the time praying for his country’s leaders instead. I thought that was an excellent idea, especially since he promised to include Canada in his prayers!
If this appeals to you, here are five more great ideas from young people. For this year, next year, or all year round:
· Park at the very back of the parking lot.
· Get to know your neighbors.
· Leave a post-it with a positive message on it wherever you go.
· Cut out all screen-time after dinner (phone, TV, computer).
· Every day take a picture of something or someone you’re grateful for and hang the pictures in your room.
So, there you have it. Different thoughts on Lent… from a Protestant!