Around this time six years ago, as a 15-year-old on fire for evangelicalism, I posted something I’d written on my blog: a scathing diatribe against Lent, the practice (originating in the Catholic church) of fasting from something for the 40 days prior to Easter. Like most 15-year-olds, I hadn’t taken the time to understand the position I was condemning; I was just parroting arguments I’d heard from others. For one thing, Lent isn’t specifically prescribed by the Bible, which in my mind settled the matter. But if that wasn’t convincing enough, Lent, I said, marked a failure to appreciate the gravity of Christ’s sacrifice. Do we really think that giving up chocolate for 40 days can repay the debt we owe to Jesus for our salvation?
As it turns out, I missed the point completely. The Lenten season is not so much about atonement for sins as it is about the attempt to loosen sin’s grip on our lives and grow closer to God — which is why, six years later, I’m finishing my first experience with Lent.
If you know me at all, you know that I love my Twitter. (Even if you don’t know me at all, you might know that I love my Twitter.) I pride myself on having a quick wit — keyword “pride” — and on Twitter, I show it off. I love being funny, and, more importantly, I love for other people to think I’m funny.
I’m not here to tell you not to use social media; if you have the right perspective on it, social media is very good. But for me, Twitter acted as an outlet for my obsession with what others think of me. So I decided to give up Twitter for Lent — not because I had to, not because I thought that doing so was somehow ample compensation for Jesus’ death, but because I needed to check my pride at the door.
As Christians, we are to give ourselves over to God completely, but I think it’s unrealistic for us to believe that total sacrifice happens all at once. In the moment we choose to follow Christ, we declare our genuine intention to surrender ourselves, but the rest of our lives are bound up in the long, slow work of surrendering — piece by piece, moment by moment, vice by vice. Lent asks us to make one step in that long journey: to isolate one of our flaws, target its footholds in our lives and systematically starve it out.
I’m not trying to convert you to Catholicism, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that Lent is something God requires. But perhaps in our attempt to be distinct in our Christianity, we discount worthwhile spiritual disciplines simply because they’re unfamiliar to us. A good idea, even one that doesn’t originate in our faith tradition, is a good idea, and how could a sacrifice in pursuit of a purer heart possibly be a bad idea?