Lent not just about ‘giving up’ something, it’s deeper

Published 5:24 pm Sunday, January 31, 2016

By Rev. Cindy Howard

On February 10, members of many Christian traditions (e.g., Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, United Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans) will begin the season of Lent. This season offers us a special time for self-examination and repentance; prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word in preparation for the celebration of Easter.

Even if you are unfamiliar with the practices of Lent, you have probably heard people talk about what they are “giving up” for Lent. This reflects the fact that some of us may choose to refrain from doing something we enjoy or like to do during Lent as a way of denying ourselves. Some people may give up eating sweets or fast food or perhaps participating in Facebook for their “giving up” during Lent. I think it is important to remember that whatever we choose to “give up” during Lent is simply a manifestation of a deeper spiritual discipline and a way of focusing on fundamental values and priorities.

Let me suggest that Lent can also a time when we might consider “taking on” a new spiritual discipline, e.g., reading a devotional book or scripture each day, spending more time in prayer, giving time to a charity, or making a commitment to attend all Sunday worship services during Lent and all Holy Week services.

What is important to remember is that Lent should be a meaningful time to draw closer to God and to prepare for the celebration of Easter. It is not a time for self-punishment. And, it is not a time for giving up something trivial or that we know isn’t good for us anyway. It is fine to give up sweets or fast food during Lent, but this will likely be more meaningful if we give the money we would have spent on these things to an organization that feeds the hungry. It is fine to give up our Facebook account during Lent, but this will likely be more meaningful if we take the extra time we have as a result for prayer or reading scripture or working in a service ministry.

Ash Wednesday, February 10, is the first day of Lent. A number of local churches will have services on that day to mark the beginning of this season. If you are not familiar with Lent or if it is not a part of your faith tradition, you are invited to attend and see what the season is all about.

My prayers for a holy and meaningful Lent.

The Rev. Cindy Howard is rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Andalusia.