So today is the first day of Lent, which for me, is a fairly recent event to consider. I didn’t grow up in a tradition that recognized Lent as a significant part of the Christian calendar so until the past few years I’ve more or less ignored it as a religious tradition that I needed to participate in - especially because I tend to avoid hollow religious traditions like the plague. But I’ve come to the realization that Lent is a significant time to reflect and to spend forty days, in Eugene Peterson’s words, “recovering the rhythms of grace.” Unfortunately, I’ve also come to realize that Lent can be every bit as “commercial” as the other big (formerly) religious holidays.
Although there are no fat men in red suits or chocolate bunnies laying candy coated eggs, Lent has nevertheless joined the ranks of the “let’s make this all about me” events we celebrate each year. How many people do you know who publicly make pronouncements about what they are giving up for Lent? It’s one of the top trending topics on Twitter today for cryin’ out loud! Need some ideas of what to give up? Try out one of these:
• “I think I’ll just try to swear less and use my computer less.”
• “Bye bye fast food…anywhere with a drive-through menu.”
• “No buying purses.”
• "I’m givin up cussin for Lent.”
• “Negativity. I hearby give up giving up for 40 days.”
And my favorite of all…
”Giving up refined sugar for Lent in an attempt to finally reach my goal weight. And, you know, for Jesus.”
I’m pretty sure the author of this post was trying to make a joke and a bit of a biting comment at the same time (I love satire!) but she pretty much hit the nail on the head. We all want the world to know that we are making a supreme sacrifice by giving up chocolate or coffee or swearing…for forty days anyway… but just like Christmas and Easter the focus of Lent has shifted from Jesus to ourselves.
I’ve also heard of some folks who are using Lent as way of sacrificing something they love to raise money for those who are in need. “Add up the money you would have spent on coffee each day and give it to the relief efforts in Haiti.” Now, I’m all for supporting the relief and development work around the world (I work for World Vision!) but despite these good intentions, turning Lent into a fundraiser is just another way of putting the focus back on us instead of Jesus.
I’m reminded here of Jesus’ words during the Sermon on the Mount:
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting except your Father (God) who knows what you do in private. And your Father who sees everything will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-17 NLT)
Jesus talked a lot about doing things in private so as not to put the spotlight on ourselves but keep it on God the Father where it belongs: “Don’t do your good deeds publicly…” (Matt 6:1), “Give you gifts in private…” (Matt 6:4), “Pray to your Father in private…” (Matt 6:6), etc.
And why did Jesus tell us to do this? To avoid being hypocrites.
And what great sin the church is always accused of? Being hypocritical.
So to those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, who are participating in Lent this year, please…keep it quiet. Lent is between you and God. Your sacrifice is important but it is also meant to be a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for all humanity. Keep the focus on Jesus’ sacrifice of his life and his resurrection and not on the extra-hot, half-sweet, grande cinnamon dolce latte with whip that you’ll so desperately be missing. Let’s not add fuel to the fire of those who already consider us hypocrites.
I’m off to my closet now…
I received a thoughtful comment from James who pointed out an unintended error in what I had written above. I did not mean to imply that you shouldn't give to worthy charitable organizations as a way of expressing concern for others during Lent, but simply to keep that between you and God. Thanks James!