I’ve been thinking the past few days of what I should “give up” for Lent. And then I thought, “Why am I giving up anything?” I was raised in the Pentecostal church and I don’t think I learned about Lent until I was in high school. Even then, I didn’t fully grasp what the whole season was about. To be honest, I still don’t. I know it’s about preparing for Easter, about penitence and self-denial…but why? I was wondering today if the whole idea of fasting during Lent comes from the Medieval idea that one must suffer in order to placate a wrathful God. Hmm. The thing is, I don’t believe in a wrathful God who needs placating, especially after Jesus’ final say on the cross.
I picked up a book of wisdom from G.K. Chesterton specifically compiled for Lent and Easter, and the first entry for Ash Wednesday addresses the idea of Christian asceticism, giving up things that are pleasurable to one’s self. Chesterton offers this prayer:
Father, we offer to you only what we have been given from you: our bodies and our selves. Show us how we can worship you through the use of our bodies and the giving of ourselves. We want to live for others, as your Son has taught us.
I love how Chesterton makes things so practical. We’re not sacrificing pleasure so that we can have little piles of ashes to lay at the feet of an angry God…we’re sacrificing ourselves–our time, gifts, and attention. The editors of the book say that Chesterton’s point may have been that “we are always free to give up these pleasures and at times are drawn to do so out of love for others.” They use the example of giving up an hour of sleep to speak with someone who needs our attention. Yikes. That’s a lot more difficult than giving up sweets for 40 days, but that’s the kind of attitude I want to have this season–my life is not my own, and that means constant small sacrifices, not for the sake of sacrifice but for the sake of love. And this way, I still get to eat cookies.
P.S. This is why it’s a perfect time to watch Chocolat…gives a really good perspective on Lent, fasting, religion…and Johnny Depp with an Irish Gypsy accent is the cherry on top.