"What are you giving up for lent?" is not an uncommon question to hear around this time of year. I can see the benefit of doing without something in order to better reflect on the sacrifice Jesus made for us. However, I think sometimes the self-deprivation people engage in can cause them to become more self-centered. How often do we hear of people giving up caffeine, sweets, alcohol, soda, etc.? We hear about it because those people tend to grumble about how hard it is to give those things up! They are so focused on themselves and what they've given up that I sometimes wonder if the act is actually enhancing their relationship with God, or making them bitter and resentful.
Maybe I'm just speaking from my own past experience. I have tried giving up things for lent and I did get grumpy and resentful! When I did, it was a reminder to check my thoughts and realize how those petty feelings really fit into the bigger picture of who God is and what God has done for us out of love. That usually turned my attitude around, but then I immediately felt guilty for even having those thoughts to begin with! My feelings of guilt reminded me of God's grace and forgiveness. So, in the end, I suppose the act of giving something up did bring me to a better understanding of what the Easter season is about, but I always wondered if there was a better way.
The past few years I have tried to add a habit of devotion during lent, rather than subtracting something. It has been really neat to see the result. Rather than approaching my faith with a sense of shame and guilt for failing, and then reflecting on the grace and forgiveness as a response to falling short, I can start from a place of gratitude and goodness, and build on it even more. For me this has been much more meaningful.
During this lenten season I decided to join a book club at the church I attend. I will also be trying the contemplative prayer session tonight. I have really missed out on being with a group of people with whom I can share introspective thoughts and musings. I am certainly the youngest person in the group, but I feel respected as an equal among them despite the years of life experience and knowledge they have on me. It has been really nice.
What are you doing differently during lent? (Notice I didn't ask the more typical question?)