I was raised Catholic, and we are currently members at our local ELCA Lutheran Church. And for 36 years, that question has been the bane of my existence once a year as Ash Wednesday rolls around. What are you giving up? The answer is always the same — hell, I don’t know!
I think as a kid I was so conditioned to give something up for Lent that I never really got the point of it all. I’d pick something that I really like and just stop doing it for 40 days. No fast food. No candy. No pop. No swearing. Last year I gave up beer, and that was just stupid. I was super thirsty for a cold one and everyone thought I was pregnant.
I don’t remember the reason for giving up something ever really being explained back in my St. James days (although I am sure it was, we just weren’t listening). As I got older, I just assumed it was because Jesus suffered, so we have to suffer. But while I am not a terribly religious person, I should know that being nailed to a cross and not drinking Pepsi for six weeks can hardly be put into the same sacrificial category.
So today I looked it up. I found this explanation on a Lutheran website:
Lent is all about meditating upon and learning more and more about what Jesus underwent FOR YOU. Giving something up for Lent isn’t about feeling guilty or trying to take away something you like so that you can feel bad about what Jesus did for you. Observing the holy season of Lent is all about receiving more and more of those very gifts that deliver salvation to you: living in your baptism, confessing your sins and being absolved, hearing the Word taught and preached, eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood which was given into death for the forgiveness of all of your sins! That’s why most churches offer additional times during Lent to hear the Word preached and to receive the Sacrament.
Jinkies… thanks for clearing that up. The post continues to explain that abstaining is not to benefit you, but to benefit your neighbor. I’m sorry, but I don’t see how giving up beer benefits my neighbor, other than to give them something to gossip about as they ponder whether I am pregnant. Which basically means I have the whole spirit of Lent all mixed up.
This morning, Jim sent me an e-mail asking what we should give up for Lent. I had no idea what to say. So I thought about it seriously, and decided that this year, we needed to focus on the spirit of making things BETTER for others rather than making things HARDER for ourselves. There’s the usual things to “give up.” No fast food. No excessive spending. But this year I want to focus on what I can do to, you know, maybe make the world a better place.
To that end, Jim and I have made our decision about at least one thing we will do this Lenten season, and hopefully beyond. We plan to feed the hungry. Our church has a food pantry, and I plan on buying a few meals every week and bringing them over. Mac & Cheese and boxed dinners and maybe even some Spam (which is not as disgusting as people assume it is).
Here’s why this is important to me — I am a total fatty. Okay, I’m not popping the buttons off my Gloria Vanderbilts, but I am definitely at least 25 pounds overweight. My pantry is full and I have a home full of nice things and my children are happy and never miss a snack. I absolutely hate it that right here, within miles of where I am, there are several parents who just can’t afford to feed themselves or their kids, or both, while I throw out half-eaten food on a regular basis. We are not even close to rich. We have a tight budget and sometimes we have to wait to get to the store until payday, which means no milk for a few days or no bread for sandwiches. But we are never, EVER hungry (and we have the fat pants to prove it). We are blessed people. We are lucky people. And we need to feed the hungry.
So to answer the question, what are you giving up for Lent? This year, the answer is, I am giving up being selfish with my food. I am giving up stuffing my face while a mother down the street goes hungry so her kids can have some tomato soup. If I can feed just one family one night a week, I think I am helping make the world a better place. I’m not a religious person. But I think Jesus would approve.