I have always struggled with Lent and have always found that the giving up of chocolate or coffee or whatever was a bit silly and totally missing the point. My husband found the article below, and I felt it said everything I’ve been trying to put in words that I am sharing it with you.
This was an article written by Timothy Merrill about Lent:
Not Giving Up
Don’t know about you, but I am not sure I’m going to give up any-thing for Lent. If I do, it will be something I’ve already given up on anyway, like liver, American Idol and the National Basketball Association, etc.
The problem is that Lent isn’t in the Bible, and it isn’t even a Protestant thing. Lent comes to us via the Roman Catholic Church, and non-Catholics have been non-Catholics for like almost 500 years now, right? Four hundred ninety-four and some change. Just sayin’.
As I said, Lent, as a penitential season of self-denial, is not in the Bible. It’s not in the Bible, period. You have to move more than 100 years after the last jot and tittle of the sacred canon was drying on parchment to catch a reference to Lent. One of the earliest mentions of “Lent” can be found in some obscure canons of The Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) which say that two provincial synods should be held each year, “one before the 40 days of Lent.” A couple hundred years later, give or take, Pope Gregory, writing to Augustine of Canterbury, shows how Lent had taken a dietary turn: “We abstain from flesh, meat and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese and eggs.”
That Lent is a 40-day observance is something we no doubt owe to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who spent 40 days in the wilderness, fasting and resisting the temptations of the devil. But even Jesus did not ask us to imitate him in this matter. Really, what did Jesus ask us to do? Three things: Go into the world and preach the gospel, love the Lord our God and our neighbor as ourselves, and to remember his death in the eating of bread and drinking of wine.
It was the Patristic church that decided that 40 days was a good span of time for us to remember our baptism and do some penance. More than a millennium and a half later, the Second Vatican Council reaffirmed this position: The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of VC2 states, “The two elements which are especially characteristic of Lent — the recalling of baptism or the preparation for it, and penance — should be given greater emphasis in the liturgy and in liturgical catechesis.”
Lent is a human invention. For a long time, the church couldn’t agree on how the 40 days would be observed. Should we do 40 days straight, like Sunday through Saturdays? Or should we take the weekends off? Various permutations had Lent lasting eight weeks, or six weeks. Finally a consensus emerged settling on six weeks of six days, and to get the four days needed for a total of 40 days, Ash Wednesday was thrown in as the beginning of Lent.
So it’s not in the Bible, and it’s really a Catholic thing.
Except, the Reformers couldn’t let it go, still hankering for the “leeks and garlics” of Rome. Thus, Lent continued to persist even in Protestant churches, which is why you will hear your bishop or dis-trict superintendent reminding you of the importance of Lent.
As a pastor, a shepherd of the flock, a leader in the Pauline mold (“Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me” [Philippians 3:17]), you have an obligation to show others the way. But seriously. Are you re-ally going to find a way to explain how giving up chocolate for Lent is a spiritual discipline?
Yes, there’s value in learning how to say “No” to yourself. And if your parents and church did not help you with this in your formative years, and if giving up a Big Mac with double cheese will help you say “No” in other areas of your life, then go for it. But, as James Kushiner, editor of Touchstone, says, “A discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to [God].” He goes on to note that what discipline can do is to help get ourselves and our Alaska-sized egos, pushed to the side, so that we’re open to God’s grace.
That said, I find it hard to give up stuff for a practice that’s not mentioned in the Bible, that Jesus didn’t ask me to do, and that comes from a faith tradition outside of my own — no offense to my Catholic friends, brothers and sisters. Really, it’s all marketing.
That’s why I am not giving up anything for Lent. Not giving up watching TV. Not giving up cheeseburgers, French fries. Not giving up a half-caff, half-fat, soy latte grande with rose scented syrup and vegan dark-chocolate biscotti. Not giving up sodas. And if I liked beer, I wouldn’t be giving up beer, either. Not giving up reading, exercise, eating, sleeping, sleeping in, e-mail. Not giving up iPod, iPhone or iPad (okay, I don’t have an iPad).
Doth I protest too much? I guess dogging Lent is almost as bad as dissing Mom, apple pie and “the American Way of Life.”
Here’s the deal: Lent is properly about three things: Ceasing to do wrong things, starting to do right things, and confessing one’s failure at both.
That’s why giving up chocolate and coffee is just silly and trivializes the season. Instead, I should take a close look at giving up what’s important — things like pride, arrogance, impatience, ingratitude–and the list could go on forever. I should also seize Lent as yet another opportunity to start doing what is right, and at the same time confess that I have failed to adequately do either one of these things.
By the way, half-caff, latte grandes are not the only things I am NOT giving up. I am not giving up faith, hope and charity. I am not giving up prayer, [family], friends, and friendships. I am not giving up on a future of peace and goodwill. I am not giving up — period!