I admire people who fast completely for lent, or at least give up a staple of their diet (a co-worker said he’s giving up bread except for communion – that sounds like a challenge!). I’m going to ask you be patient as I work through this particular question.
I don’t like lent. I appreciate the concept, but I get a little cross-eyed when people say “I’m giving up soda for lent!” or “I’m not drinking alcohol!” or “I’m going to the gym!” And it’s not because these are bad things in themselves. But I have to bite my tongue hard and resist spraining my eyeballs on the roll. And some of this is because I don’t know why people are giving them up, they can be valid.
But these aren’t spiritual in and of themselves. They can be. Any one of these might be. If drinking soda or alcohol is preventing you from being spiritual (the former is the one that I really struggle with understanding but maybe?). Sleep, eating and drinking healthy, working out – all of these are great things to accomplish. Not because of Lent. Lent is supposed to be a reminder of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting, praying, and being tempted.
I have had many years went I don’t specifically observe lent. I don’t give anything up. I’ve had a few years where I add (prayer or giving or something). But I refuse to give up something (or add something) just because. I think giving up something, even something I enjoy (soda, chocolate, going to the movies) cheapens this very important spiritual journey.
This year I’m adding a “thankfulness jar” where I’m going to put a note in a jar every day of something I’m thankful for. There is a tiny voice in my head that is constantly trying to put me down and stress me out, and it’s keeping me from being fully engaged with… well life and my community and God.
The only other time I seriously tackled Lent was in high school. My sophomore year of high school I gave up pants. Even at the time I thought it was “stupid” – until I got in to lent and really experienced it. It’s one of a very few years I really felt I needed to give something up, and it turned out that was really a powerful year. I was less limited than I was before that experience.
So does giving up soda equal fasting? Does it break some kind of chain in your life that is preventing you from fully participating? Does it bring you closer to God? Maybe it does. And so although I feel a lot of people do it as a good opportunity to “cold turkey” something they would anyway – I will never say it to their face because really their lent is between them and God. And if alcohol or soda or bread or not-going-to-the-gym is between them and God… well I have planks in my own eye I should deal with.