It has become almost trendy to give up something for Lent. "What are you giving up for Lent this year?" we ask each other. Then we proudly proclaim our sacrifice. "I'm giving up chocolate." "I'm giving up being constantly late." "I'm giving up CNN."
Jesus, though, told his disciples, "When you fast…don't do it publicly, as the hypocrites do…but put on festive clothing, so that no one will suspect you are hungry" (Matthew 6:16-18, Living Bible). His message made clear that fasting is a transaction in mind, not in public displays. As we deny in our bodies, our minds are filled with thoughts of God.
Increasing Spiritual Power
Fasting, giving up something, teaches us not to worry about the material world. When we give up a luxury for Lent, we do more than show piety; we increase our spiritual power. We deepen our communion with God. In essence, we create within ourselves space to be filled with the presence of the One that created us.
Denial can be the first step toward understanding what we want to affirm in our lives. Thus, affirmation is its natural
byproduct. When we deny weakness, for example, we must be conscious that we are affirming strength. In denying poverty, we affirm abundance. This is because that which we deny actually has no existence in Spirit. By denying what human beings see as real, we realize what eternally exists: the unchangeable truth of Spirit.
This Lenten season, choose something important to you that you are going to sacrifice during the forty days. Then don't tell anyone. In this way, you will move through the season focused on self-transformation.
Choose Affirmative Action
Equally important in the Lenten sacrifice, once you've chosen your denial, choose an affirmative action you will take in opposition to this. This is the "festive clothing" Jesus refers to when he tells us to act as if we are not in a state of lack or denial. For example, in choosing to deny yourself a particular food, you might then choose to donate a food item each day to a local food bank. Should you decide to give up a habit, such as watching news programs in the evening because of the constant barrage of negativity, use that time to give back something good in like deed to your community.
Then, make the giving from your denial an act that you commit every day of Lent. Forty days is a long time! We need the daily positive reinforcement to keep us moving forward. Take an item to the food bank each day. Do a good deed for a neighbor on every one of the forty Lenten days.
Daily readings to supplement the season are additional tools of valuable inspiration. A quick Google search will turn up a plethora of 40-day guides to the season. (Naturally, I am fond of Newt List's "Keeping a True Lent," by Charles Fillmore!) Find the one that personally resonates with you, and read each day's guide religiously, as it were. This will keep your mind focused on your goals as you move through this holy season.
Practicing Lent in these ways, your question will not be "What will I give up for Lent this year?" but, "What will I give?"
Randall Friesen is publisher of Newt List Books (NewtList.com), spiritual e-books incorporating gender-neutral language.
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