Five Reasons Not To Give Up Something for Lent

Nathan Bierma

Charles Raymond Higham
March 5, 2009

This is actually the first year I have attempted to give up something for Lent. While I agree with parts of your post, I don't think I would make a blanket statement that Christians shouldn't give up something for Lent. I'm a firm believer that at certain seasons, we all need to fast from certain things. If one chooses to do that during Lent, so be it. However, I would caution people not to just "give something up" but to replace it with something good. For example, I have decided to give up secular media (TV, movies, Facebook, etc.)and instead spend time reading and studying the Word, listening to sermons, or reading Christian literature. In other words, when we give something up, we should have a purpose of drawing closer to God through it. And, I agree with the sentiment that says Easter should be an everyday celebration, not just one day or forty or once a week. Every day we live is in light of the resurrection.
My instructions for "Lent" or any other season of fasting:
1. Don't do it to "please God" or earn his favor. Grace can't be earned, else it wouldn't be grace.
2. Don't try to "pay Jesus back" - that flies in the face of grace and says I'm going to reimburse you (which by the way is IMPOSSIBLE)."
3. Don't do it to be recognized. Which would you rather hear: a person saying, "Wow you're so spiritual" or God saying "Well done, good and faithful servant"
4. Replace whatever you are giving up with opportunities to serve others or draw closer to God. After all, fasting isn't just about abstaining, it's about drawing near to God and even helping the poor and broken (see Isaiah 58)
5. Evaluate what you have given up and ask yourself if you should EVER go back to it. Is it keeping you from Christ? Is it healthy in anyway? It may be that over the course of your fast you will find that you shouldn't return to the food/drink/activity that holds you in some form of an addiction.
Well, that's my fifteen cents on the matter.

March 5, 2009

Regarding your #5, a couple years ago at our church we had 40 days of confession (Lent) followed by 50 days of celebration (Easter-Pentecost).

We had a lot harder time practicing celebration than confession!

March 5, 2009

Celebrate everyday, because he is among us. I gave up some of my time so that others could enjoy learning a new language for free. Oh they could have done it themselves, but this way they have someone to bounce questions off of. I gave of my time, but I still celebrate the fact that he is here with us. Sit quietly and listen to the whisper in your heart, " I am here, what shall we do today." Love God and Love one another, in God's Grace John

Virginia Wieringa
March 5, 2009

Wow, Nathan. Very well put! My husband and I were just going to "give up" in general for Lent, as in casting all our burdens on the LORD and letting him have all our worries and concerns. Now there's an exercise for you!

March 5, 2009

I understand what you are saying to a point. When we gives something up or fast it is to strengthen our prayer life by creating an emptiness that we fill with God. We also do it to experience a little piece of Christ's suffering for our sins and that suffering can in turn be offered up for the souls in purgatory.
I am aware the lent is 40 days when you take away the Sundays and I do take Sundays off from my lenten sacrifice because I am celebrating(some Catholics choose to give something up for the full 46 days). As far as Lent being 40 days and Easter being only one, well that is not true. In the Church we have the Easter Season which lasts 50 days.

March 5, 2009

Like very ritual or doctrine, if it brings you closer to God, do that, if it drives you farther from God, avoid it. None of our rituals are impressive to God, but the spirit in which they are offered may be.

Dan Esau
March 5, 2009

Lent, hmmmm. Not a part of my tradition, history or even my vocabulary. I've heard from friends over the years. “No thanks, I'm giving up chocolate for lent.” or “I'm giving up coffee for lent.” I've never really understood it. I know historically what it means. I know the source of the tradition and practice. I know it's part of the 40 day lead up to Easter, reflecting Christ's 40 day fast in the desert. I know that St. Gregory writing to St. Augustine of England laid down the rule, "We abstain from flesh meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs." So far so good, but from my theological backyard the view is a bit different. The Liturgical year, it's cycles, and its feast and fasts don't find any root in the soil of my tradition so how should I observe lent? Please forgive my ignorance, but I don't know a shrove pancake from a confessing crepe. There is something here though. The more I think about it the more I begin to understand that there is something here about getting rid of those things that get in the way between me and God. What are the things that keep me far from God? What behaviors are there in my life that move me towards sin? Are there things that I need to get rid of so that I may live in greater obedience to God and extend greater grace to the people around me? I once asked a friend why I shouldn't gamble. I was looking for this big Bible answer but he just turned and with a smile said, “Dan, with your addictive personality you're asking why you shouldn't gamble?” Those kind of questions drive me far from thoughts about chocolate and coffee and deeper into other things. Things like self reliance and pride which do more to seperate me from God than I can imagine. I know there are too many things in my life that get in the way of my love for God and Lent sounds like a good time to consider them. For me, while the season of Lent isn't officially on the calender, a season of some soul searching will be. So this year for Lent, I'll be the guy drinking coffee, eating an Aero bar and trying to understand what I need to give up so I can do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with my God (Micah 6:8)

March 5, 2009

It is not what you give up but what you replace it with. Sure give up your chocolate, or TV, or Sports ... Replace it with time w/ God ... devotions, and prayer!

March 5, 2009

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that too often is relegated by the modern church because of its difficulty and unpleasantness and I believe we are doing ourselves a disservice to write it off or giving ourselves easy outs.

In point number one I agree with you about how fasting is often self-congratulatory, but as all of our deeds are tainted by sin and fall short of the glory of God should we avoid fasting simply because we have an ulterior motive?

I find your logic in points two and three somewhat contradictory. In point two you say that Chocolate isn't a cross, and that giving up something more difficult would impress you (but would not impress God). However, in the next section you say we are not competing with Christ's sacrifice. I doubt that the key to fasting is finding the Goldilocks activity that is not too easy or too hard, but just right. I don't think the purpose of fasting is to impress God, but to become more connected to Him

The final two reasons you cite are simply misunderstandings of Lent, and hardly reasons to give up the practice of fasting. Specifically on point number five, while Lent is a season, so is Easter, Hallelujah! You hit it right on the head that we are called to a life of fasting and feasting. But to properly experience the feast, we have to experience the fast, and vice-versa. And breaking one's fast can be quite celebratory. Savoring the food or activity that you have denied yourself for weeks is quite a feast. Additionally I would be surprised if in the next few weeks going back to that food or activity doesn't remind you of that period of fasting.

I think we should be analyzing our motives and understanding of fasting and Lent. If we do fast in the proper fashion that whenever we get that pang of hunger or desire to do something that we are denying ourselves our thoughts are brought to the sacrifice of Jesus, we are engaging in a spiritual discipline that our Lord engaged himself. But I am in complete agreement with you that too often we fast for the wrong reasons.

March 5, 2009

I agree with much of what you said. I've "given up" complaining for Lent, simply to allow me to further focus on the blessings God has given me. Also, I'm tithing ten cents per complaint (they add up), so it is to benefit Christ's Church as well.

I also think giving up treats, etc for Lent is absurd. That doesn't bring you much closer to God, which is (I think) the whole point.

March 6, 2009

For Lent this year, our church is having a "negativity fast" :
What a Negativity Fast is Not:
1. It is not denying that problems exist
2. It is not ignoring things that are wrong
3. It is not critical of others who may be struggling – it does not give us the right to feel or act superior
4. It is not irresponsible concerning things that need to be done
What a Negativity Fast Is:
1. It is determining to focus more on God’s promises than on problems
2. It is learning to speak with hope about even the toughest of issues
3. It is becoming “solution focused” rather than “problem focused”
4. It is refraining from reactions which gives voice to pessimism, criticism of others, self-criticism and other forms of unbelief.
5. It is speaking about problems to the right people in the right way
6. It is replacing negative words & thoughts with positive words & thoughts based on the promises of God
7. It is about speaking life over people
8. It is about learning to live as an encourager of others
9. It gives priority to the place of testimony which builds us up as well as others

Additionally, I instituted (via my blog and on facebook) the "Great Lent Challenge" within which I am challenging everybody (believers and non-believers alike) to pray consistently for one thing every day of Lent. I'll be collating the results at the end. (You can find details on my blog linked above, or on facebook by searching for the Great Lent Challenge group)

March 6, 2009

This is a great crystallization of the thoughts I've had on Lent, just in a much more concise and verbose form. I recently wrote about Lent, because I notieced a lot of restaurants, especially Taco Bell catering to people giving up meat for Lent. It just kind of seems to defeat the point of of 'sacrificing' meat if you are just going to replace your hamburger with a 7-layer burrito!

March 6, 2009

I think the title of your article should be Five Reasons Not To Give Up Something for Lent UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT LENT IS REALLY ABOUT.

Unfortunately the Protestant church, in many cases, has lost touch with what the ancient practice of Lent is really about, and partly this is due to it's choice to distance itself from historical traditions. It's an understandable reason, but when Protestants try to enact a traditional concept like Lent, without the context, it often can go awry, and you end up with things like the author here talks about. No one thinks that simply giving up candy for a few weeks brings you closer to Christ.

Lent can be a tremendously deep and powerful experience, one that draws us closer to God, and teaches us discipline in our lives. But this requires that we educate ourselves an learn as much as we can about WHY we are doing what we are doing.

As one further example of the tradition argument, in relation to the author's #5 point. Many Protestant churches have given up on the idea of keeping the church liturgical calendar. But if you look at the calendar of the church you find that there is an entire Easter season that follows, and is longer than Lent. Built into the church liturgical cycle is exactly what the author is complaining about in #5.

So I say that people should celebrate Lent, but educate yourself, and learn how best to use the time to make your relationship with Christ deeper. If you don't, then ya, many of these points are pretty much right on.

Jim Lynch
March 6, 2009

Even fasting people have to eat.

March 6, 2009

OK responses:

#1 - You've missed the point. Lent is a season of penance set aside to train our wills to be able to better follow Christ the rest of the year. It's the same way that Advent is supposed to function. The point isn't to say, "Yay, I got to the end how awesome am I!" It's to get to the end and say, "Thank you Jesus for leading me in disciplining my life to more graciously display your glory."

#2 - Sure, but that's not the point either. As a Baptist pastor I marvel at the Orthodox fast for Lent of Meat, Cheese, Fish, Oil, and Wine. These are GOOD things, willingly laid down for a time in order to spend more time in spiritual discipline. I agree that giving up chocolate isn't in the same league as that, but the money you'd spend on chocolate during Lent would traditionally be given to the poor. Again, at the end if you've drawn close to God maybe you don't take a luxury back up and that money remains a gift to those who need it. Again, small steps, but they can be real.

#3 - Yes, which is why your understanding on #4 is wrong too. Sundays are ALWAYS feast days in the Liturgical tradition, Lent is not a time of self-flagellation but of penance so the Joy of the Lord can be experienced with ever greater exuberance. Having said that, the NT is pretty clear that the ABUNDANCE that we experience in the here an now is mixed with some serious suffering for the name of Jesus, that's not a reality that should be blurred even unintentionally.

#4 - People have already covered this. You're reason is wrong, sorry.

#5 - This is just a blank stare moment for me dude. Easter has a Sunday, yes, but it's a SEASON which lasts until Ascension Sunday. The season of Easter corresponds to the time after Jesus' resurrection when the taught his disciples the meaning of what had happened.

Nate, I'm sorry but it really just sounds like you are pre-disposed against this tradition and wanted to justify that disposition. Your reasons really don't stack up against the actual tradition of Lent.

March 6, 2009

Isaiah 58 - This is the fast that I desire......So read it

Jim In NC
March 7, 2009

Actually, Easter is a 50-day season (which dwarfs the 12-day season of Christmas).

Adam McLane
March 7, 2009

Is there a story behind this story that I'm not seeing? Why not write a post teaching more people how to observe Lent beyond the trivial?

Rhiannon Gascoigne
March 8, 2009

Hm, this is all very interesting, but I think, for the most part, you trouble lies in the fact that fasting, in the Protestant practice, is largely an individualistic attempt, rather than the obedience it was meant to be, and still is, among traditional churches today.

I come from the Orthodox tradition and for us most of these concerns are moot because we don't choose what we give up. Instead we follow, as best we can, the monastic tradition (which varies slightly depending on the cultural tradition) and all of us give up the same things: meat, fish (with backbones), dairy, and alcohol.

This means we're all in it together-- there's no reason to feel chuffed that you switched to veggie burgers if everyone else at church did too. Of course many people also choose to give up something in addition to the traditional rules, like chocolate, television, or facebook. But in those cases the object is not self-punishment, but rather a personal attempt to increase our peace of mind, heart and body for the spiritual marathon that Lent is for the Orthodox.

I should add that we not only fast from certain foods, but we also attend many more services and come together in communion sometimes 3 times a week-- our strength to continue the fast coming through prayer and fellowship and communion in Christ rather than our own will power.

And, as you pointed out, Sundays are for the resurrection EVERY WEEK-- this is taken for granted in the Orthodox church and our Sunday liturgies include no Lenten hymns, but continue to reflect the joy of the resurrection.

Finally, after Pascha (or Easter) we continue to feast, singing the resurrectional hymn: "Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down Death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing Life" multiple times, along with other Paschal hymns, during every Sunday service between Pascha and Ascension.

Whether or not fasting makes sense if you come from a Protestant background I cannot say. But I can say that in the traditional practice fasting is designed in such a way to avoid the very things you mention.

March 9, 2009

The Idea that any Christians celebrate alot of the customs that really have nothing to do with the achristian pathway is amazing.

1 new year.

2 valentines day

3 Lent

4 easter ( bunnies and all)

4 palm sunday

5 Christmas( just to name a few)

How about the ceremonies we are tod to celebrate..eg foot washing showing humility. Comunion rememberance of Christ till he comes. The bible does say we are to aflict our souls in the antitypical day of atonement. This is to cause bitterness and reorse for sin and self not that pride and GADAL can be pronounced.

We as Christians need to be carefull of this new dark age where we are no following rites, customs and traditions soon we could be austracised for following the bible only.. SOLO SCRIPTURA..

March 12, 2009

Hmmm, I find the comments as interesting as the post . . . and that's a good sign for your post :)

This is the third year that our community has celebrated Lent and we also follow the Lectionary during the year (except when we don't). About half of our folks are clueless about Lent, the other half have practiced it (and other observances of the church calendar) and of that second half, the feelings about it range from "I really resonate with the history and it helps me to connect" to "that stuff is why I left the church in the first place".

We provide a website www.ibclent.com that guides you thru the season (all 46 days of it) based on the book Via Crucis by Shawn Small. There is a place to add your comments each day on that site. There is a place on our church forum www.tableandfire.com to share your stories of Lent, a way to subscribe to a daily reading text message (via sending LENT to 313131) and what community would be incomplete without a twitter account IBClent :)

Personally, I posted my own thoughts on my blog www.loudloft.blogs.com called "A passionate endorsement of Lent . . . by somebody who really isn't that passionate about Lent"

The end result of all this is . . . it doesn't really matter unless it's bringing you to a closer understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus. If it works for you, wonderful, more power to you, may your tribe increase.

If it doesn't, that's fine too. All of these things, Lent, Lectionary, church Seasons are tools to heighten your connection to the story in a way that makes it more real. What works for you may be so foreign to me that it gets in the way and vice versa.

To summarize tthe story on my blog . . . I gave up not drinking for Lent - but you'll have to read the post to get all the story.


March 15, 2009

You criticize our feeble attempts to please God with our paltry fasting and self-sacrifice. Are you anti-Catholic?

April 17, 2009

I on the other hand think doing something, anything, is better than doing nothing at all.

February 9, 2011

If you have a problem with giving up chocolate, try something a little, or a lot harder. Lent is not just about giving up something for 40 days and being relieved about it being over when it's over. It's about knowing what it's like to sacrifice something, and to learn something from your experience. And i think they knew that 1 doesn't equal 40, or that 46 doesn't equal 40. And who said we are trying to beat Christ? Not me. Not anyone I know of.

March 9, 2011

I've never followed Lent or Ash Wednesday nor have ever done anything about them. I didn't grow up with them nor did I know too much about them. One thing I don't understand at all is how around this time of year, such religious dates are fodder for water cooler topics and Facebook status updates. The following are annoying, "Giving up caffeine for Lent! OMG! LOL!" or "I have no idea how I'm gonna be able to give up meat!", as well as mind-boggling. Why is there a need to broadcast what is to be exclusively between you and God? Or maybe I'm misunderstanding it all and such narcissistic proclamations and open communication is all part of the process....this time of year. If so, then why do we not hear more from these people about their Christian walk throughout the rest of the year. Is there as much water cooler talk going on during the rest of the year about how someone was having a hard tme forgiving someone or do we see a Facebook status posing a question about discipling relationships and how to go about building them? It just seems bizare to me how open some are during this time and then any other time....good luck talking to them about God, Jesus, or the Bible.

June 19, 2021

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