Ah. The time of year when we, Christians, conveniently rely on our faith to help us stick to our diets!
While that was typed tongue-in-cheek, I do think that we sometimes make too much light of the Lenten Season, especially when it comes to figuring out what we should give up. Some people treat the 40 days as a quick diet scheme: No carbs or no caffeine or no sugar or no chocolate— which is good and all. I don’t want to be the Lenten Police and belittle what people are giving up. It’s just that sometimes we say we’re giving up those things without any rhyme, reason, purpose or intention.
I once had my youth group students write their names on the wall and what they were going to give up during Lent season to hold us accountable. It was then I realized I never really explained what the Lenten Season was about nor why we fast from things during this season.
The things my kids were giving up:
- “Doing homework. What’s the point?”
- “Sweets and chocolate — Prom season is right around the corner.”
- “Being nice to my siblings.”
The responses on the wall taunted me every time I walked in that youth room.
We give up things during the Lent season to remind ourselves of the suffering and pain that we know Jesus will experience at the end of the season. We also give up things to be reminded of our dependence on God. Caffeine shouldn’t be the thing that compels us to live. God’s love and grace is what should compel us to live and love. Giving up coffee is not trivial at all. When that dull headache starts rolling in, we reflect on our mortality, our weakness, and our dependence on coffee (it’s only 9am — how am I getting a caffeine headache already?) which should remind us of God’s mercy and grace and presence.
Lent can also be understood as some sort of house cleaning. Just like how we may clean our house in preparation for a guest, we take time to examine our lives and in clean our hearts to prepare to encounter the Risen Christ at Easter. So we clean out the things that hinder our relationships with God and with others.
The main purpose of “giving up” things in Lent is to bring us closer to God; to prioritize God; to put God in the center of our minds and lives; to make God the focal point.
So if you’re thinking about giving up chocolate — do it! But also ask yourself “how will that bring me closer to God?” One way it could bring you closer to God is that every time you start craving for chocolate, you take that as a cue to be in prayer; to confess your weakness, to confess your need for God’s grace, to be reminded that God is with you and that God has always been with you.
May this Lenten season bring you ever so closer to God.
Rev. Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.