By Rev. Karen Fitz La Barge
North Kent Presbyterian Church
“So what are you giving up for New Years?” Someone asked me. What they meant was, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Lent is the 40 days, (excluding Sundays), before Easter.
It is typical by February for our New Year’s resolutions to have completely failed and for us to be entirely back to our regular habits. The idea behind a New Year’s resolution is to make a permanent life change. Some people resolve themselves to give up smoking or to quit drinking or to lose 30 pounds. At the New Year we often promise ourselves that THIS is the year that we are going to finish that project, earn that degree or make a career change. New Year’s goals are often for self-improvement, but they are frequently big life goals, things that may take months or even years to accomplish.
Lent, however, has an entirely different purpose. The inspiration for Lent is the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert (Matthew 4). Immediately following his baptism, Jesus went to the desert and prayed and fasted for 40 days. The practice of fasting is almost always paired with prayer in the Bible. The idea was that you would sacrifice the time and the energy that went into finding, preparing, eating and cleaning up food, and instead you would use that time to talk to God. Historically those who were fasting would eat only one meal a day, at around 3 pm, or else they would give up expensive meat on Fridays and give that money to those who had no food at all.
Over the centuries, the practice of fasting for Lent has turned into, “Giving up something”. But the part that frequently gets forgotten is that you are “Giving up something for God“. The 40 days of Lent isn’t just another self-improvement program, it is an intentional spiritual discipline that is intended to draw you closer to God. It works by reminding you of your true purpose in life every time that you practice it. It is giving up one thing, in order to have the time and energy to do something more important.
So this Lent, no matter what you are giving up, I hope that you will take the time and the energy that you spent before and invest that in your spiritual life instead. –If you are giving up a meal, spend some of that time in prayer or meditation. If you are giving up a treat, deliberately give that money to someone who needs it. This Lent, as you prepare for Easter, give yourself the gift of getting closer to God. It is so much bigger and better than just another broken New Year’s resolution.
- Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 14th.