“I gave up store-bought desserts for Lent,” whispered my nephew. “But don’t worry, I don’t really like them anyway.”
This was how my young nephew secretly informed his grandmother of his pledge to “give something up” during Lent. When I heard the story I laughed and was launched back into the memory of a time when I was invited, well—required, to give up one of my pleasures during the season of Lent. Every year I gave up desserts or chocolate, jigsaw puzzles or TV-watching, all near and dear to my young heart.
My earliest experience of Lent was much like my nephew’s. I tried to figure out how to give something up that wouldn’t really feel like a sacrifice. I’m afraid I missed the point of what Lent is all about. But over the years, I have grown in my understanding of how this type of fast works and what it signifies. I know I am not earning favor with God or “helping Jesus” by my meager efforts. Not at all! I am fasting in order to focus my senses and my prayers on the greatest sacrifice of all time.
What I have found is that the suffering and death of Jesus becomes that much more meaningful when underscored by some small sacrifice of my own. When I put off temporal, created pleasures it enables me to refocus myself on the spiritual gift that I receive in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. With my body and mind oriented toward a sense of loss, it reminds me, in increasing measure, that Jesus voluntarily gave up everything for me! His life for me! Certainly far more than his comfort or entertainment for me…
Keeping a Lenten fast is a tradition handed down from the early church and has been practiced by countless believers over the centuries. In our time, a fear of legalism has encouraged modern believers to avoid the practice altogether. But I have found it to be of great value. It reminds me how the spiritual realities that we do not yet experience with our five senses can be symbolized by what we see, hear, smell, touch—and taste. So when I sacrifice something that delights my sense of taste, I am more alert to my ability to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Lent is almost over and I look forward to turning from a season of preparation and the act of emptying myself, to a celebration of the fullness of Christ’s resurrection. This year I look forward to that piece of chocolate cake on Easter Sunday, surrounded by family and enjoying many of the blessings this life has to offer. As I eat it, I will remember the feast that I anticipate one day with my resurrected Lord and I will be even more thankful that I am invited to attend. And I will keep an eye out for my nephew and ask him if he missed any of those store-bought treats after all.