Forty days can seem like a long time when you are denying yourself something that is a normal part of your daily life. Similar to ‘New Year’s Resolutions’, Lent can become a season when those who set out to accomplish their pre-set ‘goals’, come to find out that they can’t maintain the newly adopted discipline nearly as long as they had anticipated. But allow me to ease your conscience if that has been your experience… Lent isn’t about “giving something up”!

Allow me to clarify. The primary reason behind the lenten discipline of denying oneself something of value or importance is not for the experience of denial itself. As good as this discipline is for anyone who is seeking to gain better “mastery” over their own decision making processes, it is not the primary purpose in Lent. The purpose of self denial in Lent is what is taken up in the place of what is being denied. For example, if someone chooses to give up some favorite food during Lent, is the reason for doing so in order to be able to experience how dependent one has become on that food? Is it to reveal possible addictive behaviors? Is it to reveal how little gratitude we actually have for the abundance in our lives? Of course! In a way, it is all of this! But I still want to suggest, that the primary reason is not found in any of these things.

Rather, we give up things so that we can open up space and time in our lives to devote ourselves more purposefully to the call and challenge of Jesus. It is about clearing away things in our lives for a season so that we can make a more determined effort to engage the scriptures, to pray, to attend worship service with renewed attention and dedication, to be with and serve the poor and needy. It is a season that calls upon each of us to do as Jesus has commanded, “If anyone wants to come after me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” It’s the following part that becomes the focus in Lent. Self denial helps to purify our spiritually discerning capacities so that we can more consciously and deliberately give ourselves to the things that make us better “followers”.

Try something new this Lent. Stretch yourself. Do something you have never done before. Put yourself in situations that are new and perhaps “uncomfortable”—not simply to prove to yourself that you have the ability to deny yourself something, but rather to become a more devoted follower of the one we call Friend.

Peace. Chris.
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