As a Pastor’s wife, this time of year guarantees me that I will get asked at least one question, possibly two. The first is, “What are you giving up for Lent?” which is often followed by “What time is your church’s Ash Wednesday service?”
I don’t enjoy getting these questions. Mostly because my answers are not usually what people are looking for. I don’t give things up for Lent. When I was in high school, I had several friends that were practicing Catholics. I asked one of them once why they were expected to give something up for Lent. Her answer? “So we can gain a better understanding of Jesus since he sacrificed for us.” I like the thought. But listening to people whine about not being able to have whatever food item they gave up was annoying. Yes, I said it. Annoying! And I’m fairly certain that sacrificing chocolate and whining about it does not help one grow closer to God. In recent years, people have given better explanations for Lent some of which I am still reading over and praying through. And the number of days involved in Lent has an explanation that is influenced by man-made regulation (which is always a call to proceed with caution for me!)- it’s based on the 40 days that Christ spent in the wilderness before beginning his ministry but it’s actually 46 days in length because the church prohibited fasting or penance on Sunday since it was supposed to be a day of celebration.
Let me be very clear – I have no problem with those who observe the practice of giving something up for Lent or who make attending an Ash Wednesday service a priority. For me, I don’t want to participate in any ritual just for the sake of outward appearances. We get into trouble when we focus on the outward. Remember King Saul? The nation of Israel wanted a king so they could be like all the other nations. They chose Saul because he was tall and good-looking. But he did not have a heart for God. In I Samuel 16:7 we read –
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
In my recent past, I had a friend who impressed me with her approach to Lent. She and I hung out together in eating establishments on a frequent basis (it’s what we theater geeks do after a show, we go out to eat!). I figured out what she had given up for Lent simply because I knew her eating and beverage habits before Lent and went out with her often enough during Lent to see a change. She never said a word about it. In a weird way, I deeply respected her for that. When the Lenten season ended, she went back to her normal beverage consumption as though nothing had happened.
I’m not against participating in Ash Wednesday (which no one has ever attempted to explain to me) or the Lenten season. But I don’t want to participate just for the sake of “looking spiritual”. Behaviors that are done simply for others to see? Yeah, the Bible has something to say about that too!
Matt. 6:1 – “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Our church engages in the choral recitation of The Lord’s Prayer as a part of the Sunday service each week. If I cannot mean each and every word of that prayer, I keep my mouth shut. I know it from memory, and can recite it on command. But if I babble meaninglessly, then I am violating the command in Matt. 6:7 –
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
(By the way, The Lord’s Prayer starts in Matt. 6:9!)
So, once again, I will not participate in Lent in the traditional sense (a friend did issue a challenge about speaking encouragement into the lives of those around us and that I will be taking part of) and I will not attend an Ash Wednesday service. I’m not saying I will never participate. If any of you reading this are able to provide some insight – and especially scriptural support! – for these practices, I’d be more than happy to change my participation level in years to come!!