I recently asked someone if they were planning on giving something up or taking something on for Lent. They seemed slightly taken aback and pointed out that they weren't "religious" and as such, obviously (in their opinion) they wouldn't be doing anything for Lent. Which in turn took me aback; I had school friends that weren't religious and often did something for Lent, and as a student I knew people who used Lent as a chance to try something new, or make a lifestyle change with a ‘get out’ clause if they didn't like it, like another shot at New Year resolutions almost. Whether you were doing it for religious reasons often seemed neither here nor there.
I remember in church as a teenager people getting competitive about it, giving up chocolate trumped giving up fizzy drinks.
The question I still find myself asking is, if you're giving up something for Lent, what? Rather than, if you're giving up something for Lent, why?
Writing for the Guardian Rhik Samadder recently said, "Every year I give something up for the wrong reasons. It’s never: 'How, my God, may I draw nearer to thee?’ Instead I wonder: ‘How, when I take my shirt off, can I make it look less like a deflated beanbag?’” (You can read his article on the Guardian website here.)
Do we give something up to be the best that God wants us to be? Do we put something down to appreciate the good things in our lives? Do we stop doing something we love to reassess our priorities? Do we use Lent as a time for prayerful fasting, whether that be fasting from food or TV or something totally different?
Do we take something on for Lent for similar reasons?
Even if we start with the best of intentions, by the end of Lent are we thinking more often about the chocolate/meat/alcohol we're not having than the reasons we're abstaining?
So, at the start of Lent this year I want to encourage you to think about what it means to you, why you do (or don't) give something up or take something on.
I know I often don't give it the consideration it deserves.