Next month, we’ll begin the season of Lent, and people have already started to ask me, “Do you give up something for Lent?” To which my answer is, “Yes.”
I know some people are of the mindset that adding something positive to our daily routine is preferable to giving something up. And while I would never discourage anyone from adding a positive thing to his or her life, I still hold to the old tradition of self-restraint and self-denial. However, I do so not out of a sense of nostalgia, but rather with a very specific reason.
We live in a culture that desires instant gratification. It’s a culture whose adherents want what they want when they want it, and they usually want it right now. We are often faced with temptation to fulfill our desires in the moment. Sometimes this is harmless and at other times it is not. Sometimes these desires urge us to scream at a loved one because we are angry, overeat because we are hungry, or fall into routines of behavior because we are comfortable. Not showing caution about which desires we give in to and which ones we do not can sometimes have disastrous or painful effects in our lives. And big things - like our temper, our cravings, our lifestyles and routines - can be difficult to change. So in order to facilitate these changes in my own life, I start small. I take the season of Lent to practice.
No child practices ‘chopsticks’ on the piano in order to play it before a concert hall full of people. It’s just an exercise to teach them to how to work the keys. Likewise, no one really gives up candy bars for Lent because they think it will have an enormous impact on their life. It’s just an exercise in learning how to say “no” to one’s desires. That way, when bigger and more dangerous desires show up in our lives, we have the practice and the strength to be able to turn them down.
In Lent, we remember the many times in the Bible when people were out in the wilderness, including Jesus who was tempted by the Devil. We can use the season of Lent to practice our own restraint and willpower with small and easy things, so that later when we find ourselves tempted in our own wilderness, we can choose what is best for our lives.