Lent? Really?

It has been interesting to notice the different reactions to Lent this year on social media. The most common meme on Twitter goes like this: “This Lent, I am giving up!” Another tweet points out: “I’m not giving up anything for Lent. I’ve had to give up working, socialising, eating out, earning, and all my hobbies. If that doesn’t satisfy Jesus then I’d say he’s being picky.”

The whole idea of Lent feels very different in this lockdown. Some common reactions have included the view that this lockdown is making us sacrifice so much already, so why do we need to make more sacrifices? Others feel that instead of giving up the things we enjoy, we should be indulging ourselves more to help us get through this difficult lockdown period.

This has been a difficult lockdown in so many ways compared with the lockdown in March last year. The novelty of working or studying from home has worn off. Now that schools and businesses are more organised, working from home…well…feels like working in the office or the classroom. But more significantly, the infection rate has meant that we know more people who have contracted Covid-19 and, regretfully, some who have died from it. So no wonder our social media folks are feeling lukewarm about entering a period of time that requires them to give up things that would ordinarily bring some welcome comfort at this time! We have definitely made massive sacrifices!

But Lent is more personal. And it is not just about us or what we do for others. What do I mean?

If we are honest, we can often talk about Lent in terms of making sacrifices for ourselves or for our own benefit. We are giving up chocolate or alcohol because we want to lose weight or to become more healthy. We may start walking or doing more exercise to get more toned. Or we might do these things to achieve a personal goal or test our resilience. We give up social media because it is stressing us out. Anything wrong with these things? Not at all. Except, that isn’t Lent.

Lent is different. It is a response to something, or to be more precise, someone. Lent is leading up to the Easter season, in which Christians recall and celebrate the incredible sacrifice Jesus made for humanity. A sacrifice that involved giving up his life. We will probably never understand the extent of the torture – psychological, physical and spiritual – that Jesus went through from the moment he was arrested to the moment he took his last breath on the cross. But for many people, this sacrifice changed the course of history and countless lives. Forever.

So Lent is a response to this – how can we respond to this sacrifice? There is nothing that we can do that will ever match that sacrifice (we can see it closely mirrored in the sacrifices our frontline workers have been making during this pandemic) but Lent provides Christians with an opportunity to personally give something back in return. We make sacrifices in order to prepare ourselves to remember the greatest sacrifice. Compared to Jesus’ sacrifice, giving up crisps or avoiding that massive slice of chocolate cake is nothing but it is some people’s something.

But Lent is not just about giving up “things”. It can also mean “doing” things – doing things to overcome our selfishness, our ego and our self-centredness. For example, how many times do I sit in my living room, scrolling through Twitter instead of having a “battle” with my kids (which usually results in me sustaining some minor injuries)? My parents live in Ireland…do I communicate with them enough, like a son should? Could I visit some of my elderly neighbours more often, rather than simply walking by their house or thinking I am too busy? Instead of buying more could I be donating more?

These are just examples. You may have your own ideas. In other words, during Lent we are challenged to act in personal ways that reflect the same love, compassion, mercy, generosity with which Jesus gave his life for us. And, at times, it won’t feel great, it may be an inconvenience but that is how our lives become richer. It is the strangest rule in the Christian life and Jesus and his followers kept talking about it – if you lose your life, you will save it; the weaker you admit you are, the stronger you become; whoever is last will be first and so on. St. Francis once wrote: “It is in giving that we receive.”

Finally, the P-word. Prayer. None of this Lenten stuff will make any sense or seem possible unless we take the time to pray, to chat to the one for whom we are doing it. With less travelling to work or school, lockdown can provide us with more opportunities to pray. Simply taking the time to sit with God at the end of the day and giving thanks for the good things that have happened may be a massive sacrifice for us! Opening a Bible and reading about Jesus in one of the gospels instead of reading mind-numbing posts on social media could be a huge sacrifice for you! But prayer is like the glue that holds all our Lenten actions together.

So maybe you are wondering where to start? These might be of some help to you…











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