Lent has begun.
Like many Christians I am ‘giving something up’ for Lent. Not because I feel I must, nor because I consider it some absolute devotional requirement, but because I find it helpful and useful as a spiritual discipline.
This ‘little fast’ reminds me of Jesus’ forty days fast in the desert, where he was tempted. That in itself is good reason to pursue this disciple.
But more than that, the idea of ‘giving up something for Lent’ is about forsaking for a season things that speak of this world, this existence, this reality and allowing ourselves therefore to focus on a different world, existence and reality; that of God’s Kingdom.
However, something else has struck me this year; that voluntarily giving something up for Lent sets limits and boundaries. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with (for example) eating chocolate or drinking wine or having a coffee or whatever. Giving something up as a spiritual disciple is simply saying ‘just because I can, does not mean I need to’. Just because I can have a cup of coffee, bar of chocolate, glass of malt whisky etc does not mean I must have one. I need not be driven by my every desire but can choose to refocus my attention and energies and – indeed – desires.
Of course, such limitations are in themselves limited! Most of us tend to only give up relatively small things (although they can feel big!). And it is only for six weeks. What’s more we have voluntarily and freely chosen these limits.
I still struggle to get used to the limitations posed by my health (and these limitations are gradually increasing). But while I can choose to accept or resist these limitations, resistance can only go so far, and I have not chosen the underlying limitations in the first place. Naturally, I would much rather they did not exist!
But this – for me – is the added dimension to choosing a voluntary limitation for Lent. As well as the spiritual value, it also gives me a feeling of being able to choose rather than have limitations imposed upon me by an unwelcome and unlooked for health condition.
There is a lot for me to think about in the Lenten season.