Should I or shouldn’t I? It’s a question I ask myself each Lenten season. Should I give something up? I know I don’t need to, but would it help me to focus on this season in a more meaningful way? Now that I have children, it’s something I’ve wrestled with even more. Every parenting article seems to include the observation that our actions speak louder than words. Would watching me give something up for Lent help my children remember the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice and his love for all of us? Should I encourage them to give something up as well? The two authors who write this month bring great perspective to this topic and remind us that this is not an area of faith that is spelled out for us. We can use our Christian freedom to decide what is best for ourselves and our families.
Should I give something up for Lent?
I think this is a great question because it shows that you’re taking Lent seriously. Remember that it’s not a “right or wrong” kind of question, though. To give something up for Lent may be a time-tested practice, but like the season of Lent itself, it’s not something God requires.
If you do decide to give something up for Lent, may God bless this effort. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Make it a personal devotion not a public statement. Jesus has some strong warnings in Matthew chapter 6 against practicing your religion simply to let others see you. Choose something that will be a private reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice, not a way to show off your own piety. On the other hand, if someone happens to notice your changed routine and asks you about it, it can be a great opportunity to talk about how you are giving up a small thing to remember how Jesus gave up his life to redeem you.
- Choose something spiritually “neutral” to give up, not something sinful. Lent is a season of repentance. That doesn’t mean giving up a sin only temporarily but confessing and renouncing it completely. So if people declare that they are giving up a specific sin for Lent with the idea that they can run right back to that sin as soon as Lent ends, that makes a mockery of true repentance.Instead, choose something you otherwise legitimately enjoy but will forego during Lent. It could be something that you would like to cut back on anyway, such as certain foods, TV, social media usage, or many other habits.
- Take your promise seriously—but also admit the possibility of failure. This may sound contradictory, but both attitudes are important. If you are going to make a commitment to glorify Jesus during Lent in this way, obviously that’s something that you should take very seriously. But I also think you should honestly admit that you might not succeed. We are weak human beings, but Jesus’ commitment to saving us never faltered, even once. If weakness or forgetfulness causes you to fail in your pledge, it can remind you of why we all are utterly dependent on Jesus’ strength, not our own. Humbly confess your failure and don’t abandon the effort completely. Continue striving to uphold it for the rest of the season.
The choice of how best to commemorate Lent is yours to make. God bless your efforts, for Jesus’ sake!
My 12-year-old granddaughter and I munched McDonald’s combo meals in a quiet corner of the restaurant.
We had discussed a variety of topics when I asked, “Have you ever thought about giving up something for Lent?”
“I think about that on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday,” she replied after a moment’s thought. “That’s when we say farewell to alleluias at church and take away the alleluia banner. Is that what you mean?”
“Kind of. Sometimes Christians give up more during Lent than singing alleluias. Some Christians give up harmful habits—like smoking. Some stop doing things or eating foods they really like. Chocolate, maybe.”
“What? No chocolate?” she said in feigned horror.
I continued, “Or cupcakes. Or potato chips. . . . ” I paused for dramatic effect. “Or french fries.” With that, I stuffed an oversized fry into my mouth.
“But why would Christians give up anything for Lent?”
“What a great question! It’s important to have the right answer. Some Christians give up things for the wrong reason. For example, they think that if they stop eating french fries during Lent they’ll become more worthy of God’s forgiveness.”
“That’s not right. Jesus has done everything we need to be forgiven.”
“He absolutely has. But giving up something for Lent can have a positive side. Here’s what I do. A few times a week I may drink a glass of wine before bed. During Lent, I don’t. Instead, every time I think about wine, I pause to consider how much Jesus gave up for me when he died on the cross. Giving up wine becomes a little alarm bell that directs my heart toward Jesus.”
“I like that. During Lent, every time I think, It would be nice to have a piece of chocolate, I’d be reminded to think about how much Jesus loves me.”
“So, might there be some things you could use as an alarm?”
“Chocolate. Chewing gum. But it would be very, very, very hard for me to give up my privacy.” Then with deadpan humor, she added, “But it would be easy not to drink wine.”
“I suppose giving up homework wouldn’t be hard either.”
“You’re right. I don’t like homework. It’s boring. But I do like desserts.”
“You know,” my teacher-mode kicked in, “giving up things for Lent isn’t something that the Bible tells us that we have to do or even that we should do. But it can be a helpful spiritual discipline, something that helps us get more benefit out of Lent—and to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection better.”
Then came my call to action. “What do you think? Might you give up something during Lent to help you focus on Jesus?”
“Maybe. Just not chocolate.”
Gather for Lenten devotions
This collection of 15 daily devotions, Bible verses, activities, and prayers can guide your family through the days leading up to Easter. Each day features something to read, something to say, something to do, and something to pray. Available from Northwestern Publishing House at nph.net or 800-662-6022.
Build a Lenten wreath
Consider helping your family focus on Jesus’ love for them by building a Post-it® Note Lenten wreath. In the center of the wreath write, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Each day have family members attach a note that describes a way they showed Jesus’ love to someone else. Explain that each note is a testimony of how the family thanked Jesus for loving them. The verse will remind family members of the reason we love others. By the end of Lent, the wreath will abound with acts of gratitude for grace.
Author: Multiple authors
Volume 107, Number 03
Issue: March 2020