What are you giving up for Lent this year? If you are like most Christians, you start to give the idea a little thought in February. Lent may feel like it is a long way away, but the majority of people are aware of how quickly those intervening weeks begin to slip away. One moment it is early February, and Lent is a month away. There is plenty of time to come up with a good Lenten sacrifice and get yourself in the proper state of mind by Ash Wednesday. You blink, and suddenly it is Fat Tuesday. You have one more day to indulge in whatever your sacrifice is and that is assuming you have made up your mind.
The vast majority of Christians give up something that they enjoy for Lent. Think about what your friends gave up last year. If they are like most people, at least one of them gave up some sort of food item and another gave up something electronic. You also probably knew someone who gave up something completely off the wall, like using forks. When it comes to Lenten sacrifices, that is a pretty normal spread. The most common thing given up for Lent is some sort of food item that people already know they should not be eating. This is almost always a sugary food or drink. Some people give up on sweets entirely. Others decide that it is acceptable to eat sugar but not to drink it. So, they give up soda. The most common choice, however, is chocolate. For some reason, thousands of Christians every year decide that going without their favorite chocolate candy bars or chocolate chip cookies for 40 days is an appropriate Lenten sacrifice.
In today’s world, electronic sacrifices have become more common. Some people give up texting and only contact their friends through phone calls or emails. Others ditch Facebook for 40 days. Still others give up their smartphones entirely with the exception of emergency use for safety reasons.
Alcohol also sits near the top of the list of popular Lenten sacrifices. This tends to be a choice made by casual or social drinkers rather than those who overindulge regularly. Cutting back on the booze is certainly a good health choice, just like skipping out on the chocolate frosted donuts is a healthy plan. “Good for you,” however, does not necessarily equate to “good thing to give up for Lent.”
It is clear from the list of the most popular Lenten sacrifices that the average Christian has forgotten why people began giving up things in the 40 days before Easter in the first place. Instead, Lent has become a time to pretend to break bad habits. Everyone knows, though, that they are going to go right back to gossiping, smoking, eating chocolate or drinking alcohol on Easter Sunday. Lent, however, is not supposed to be a temporary break from your favorite vices or a 40 day marathon test of willpower.
The season of Lent is identified with the 40 days Jesus spent out in the wilderness. During this time, He was alone except when He was tempted by the Devil. With the exception of those ominous interactions, Jesus spent the time in solitude. His 40 days were filled with prayer and reflection. The Lenten sacrifices of Christians are meant to mirror this. Now, most Christians cannot get 40 days of paid leave from work or 40 straight days of excused absences from school to go wander the wilderness. Frankly, many Christians may not even know how on earth to find a patch of wilderness much less survive in it for 40 days. Modern Christians, however, do not need to become hermits in order to celebrate Lent in the proper fashion. They simply need to give up the right thing.
A Lenten sacrifice could be a vice or a habit, but it should not be one that is completely innocuous. What you give up for Lent should be something that distracts you from God. Lent is meant to mirror Christ’s sacrifices, but it is also meant to echo His solemn time of prayer just as much. As such, a Lenten sacrifice should be something that, once removed, makes it easier for you to connect with God. Despite how many Christians give up chocolate for 40 days, sugar does not meet the criteria for a Lenten sacrifice. With the exception of heavy drinkers and alcoholics, alcohol does not normally meet these criteria either. If alcohol is that serious of a problem that it is interfering with your spiritual life, do not wait for Lent. Get help immediately.
One popular Lenten sacrifice does fit the traditional criteria. Electronics and social media use are known to have a detrimental effect on people’s mental wellbeing and spiritual health. Those who overindulge in social media tend to be more jealous, depressed and bitter. They are inundated daily with their friends posting the best possible moments of their lives and, at the same time, a potential victim of the social media trolls looking for posts and comments to shred with a viciousness that is positively Roman. It is enough to make anyone a cynic. Setting that aside for 40 days, however, will let people reconnect with God and remember who loves them the most. Lent, in this case, can be a way to remember what really matters and pay more attention to the blessings that you have in your own life rather than coveting those in someone else’s.
Lent is a time of penance, abstinence and prayer. Those 40 days should be used to help you draw closer to God in preparation for Easter and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. This means giving up something that distracts you from God’s presence in your life. If you are unsure of what precisely is the right thing to give up, you could also add something to your life that will help you draw closer to God. Some people make it a point to volunteer more often during Lent or join a Bible study for those 40 days. The choice is yours. What matters is simply that you make a choice and use your 40 days in the metaphorical wilderness to eschew temptation and draw closer to the one who, at the end of Lent, sacrificed everything to save us all.