What are you giving up for Lent?
I’ve given up candy, dessert, alcohol, second portions of dinner, playing video games, checking social media and various other things for lent over the years. I’ve also taken up new practices, like praying for an hour daily, or reading through the whole Bible in Lent. But what is Lent and why do people give things up for it?
Lent is the period of 40 days, plus seven Sundays leading up to Easter (so, technically, Lent is 47 days long, but I’ll get into that) where the Church practices fasting. Fasting before Easter has been a practice of the Church since the very earliest days, and the formal practice of a 40-day fast mirrors Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).
The Sundays in Lent are days when the church has typically broken the fast (so, really it is a bunch of six-day fasts, rather than a continuous 40 day fast). Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which, in 2022, is this coming Wednesday, March 2. The day before Ash Wednesday is known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, and has typically been a day when people will get rid of all the fat from their home in preparation for a fast. (In England, we do it by eating pancakes!)
But what is fasting? Fasting is simply giving something up in order to draw closer to God, and it can be done with pretty much anything, but, historically, people have fasted from food during Lent. It is not usually practiced as a total fast, like the one Jesus practiced, where he did not eat any food, but as a partial fast, where certain items of food are given up.
And why would we want to fast? The purpose of fasting is to deepen our relationship to God by revealing to us that we are entirely dependent upon him; as Jesus cited during his time in the wilderness, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3 ESV). By removing something that we tend to rely upon to get through the day, it increases our dependence on the Lord, and as a result deepens our relationship with him.
So, I wonder, would you consider practicing fasting during Lent this year? Perhaps you could choose to fast from food, whether from a particular type of food, like meat, or candy, or from a particular meal of the day, like lunch. Or, maybe you could choose to fast from a certain beverage, whether it be coffee, or alcohol. Or, maybe a better fast for you might be a fast from social media or from your cable news network of choice. Or, perhaps you might fast from spending money on anything other than essentials. There are many different ways you could choose to fast.
And in place of the times you would normally spend conducting those activities of eating, drinking, or entertainment, consider how you might actively draw closer to God. Last year I gave up playing video games by myself (I still allowed myself to play them with my kids) and chose, instead, to read through the Bible in 40 days. In the past, I’ve given up checking social media, and chosen to pray for an hour each day. Perhaps those feel a little extreme to you! But, consider how you might use the moments you create by fasting to draw closer to God.
And then enjoy the feasting of Sundays, and ultimately, Easter Sunday. Choosing to feast on Sundays in Lent adds a whole new dimension to the Sabbath that I’ve even incorporated into my weekly rhythms—the Sabbath is not just a day of rest, but a day to enjoy the fullness of God’s creation. And use the time to anticipate the wonder and celebration of Easter Sunday itself—the day when death was defeated and the course of history altered forever.
This Sunday we continue our series through 1 Peter. I look forward to worshipping with you in person or online at 9:00 or 10:30 am!
Rev. Ellis White
Associate Pastor, Chapel Hill Church
Photo: Sultan Abdulrazzaq, Unsplash