A Lenten Decision
Give something up or take something on? This is a decision many Christians make throughout Lent. The traditional practice is to give something up. Over the past decade, Stephen Smith of Open Bible has been creating a chart marking what Twitter users are giving up for Lent. The top choices, as shared by Christianity Today:
2010: Twitter, Facebook, alcohol, chocolate, swearing
2011: Twitter, Facebook, chocolate, swearing, alcohol
2012: Twitter, chocolate, swearing, alcohol, soda
2013: Being Pope, swearing, soda, social networking, alcohol
2014: chocolate, alcohol, Twitter, social networking, swearing
2015: school, chocolate, Twitter, alcohol, social networking
2016: chocolate, Twitter, social networking, alcohol, school
2017: alcohol, social networking, chocolate, Twitter, chips
2018: social networking, alcohol, Twitter, chocolate, meat
Once the skewed results are removed (Twitter users are bound to say “Twitter”, and the Pope comment is sarcastic), we are left with the usual suspects: chocolate, alcohol, soda and swearing, joined by the more recent Twitter, Facebook and social networking. (Other food and drink choices in the Top 20: sweets, soda, coffee, fast food, bread, junk food, pizza and cookies.) To give up any of these things requires spiritual discipline. The survey sheds light on what we think is bad for us: we eat and drink the wrong things, swear too much and spend too much time online. (Netflix, Instagram and selfless also made the list.) So far, so good. But are these our worst habits, or just the habits we think we can give up? Are the other habits so deeply engrained that we simply accept them?
Look further down the list (a LOT further), and deeper suggestions appear: in 2014, complaining was #66, procrastination was #73, and negativity was #95. But this year (2018), negativity made it all the way up to #6. Those who give up chocolate will find it difficult, especially as Valentine’s Day lands on Ash Wednesday this year. In 2014 and 2016, it was by far the #1 choice. But is it the best choice? Flip the script for a moment: would you rather speak with a person who had given up chocolate or a person who had given up negativity? Both practices are good for the body; which is better for the soul?
The harder something is to give up, the deeper the discipline required. Jesus did much more in the desert than give up chocolate; he gave up food. The traditional spiritual practice of fasting connects Christians to Jesus’ fast, which was itself connected to the Old Testament practice of repentant fasting. (The spiritual discipline of fasting is not about losing weight, although it does have that side effect; it’s about self-control.) He also gave up instant gratification, blind faith and the pursuit of earthly wealth, power and popularity ~ not just for 40 days, but for life. While this is too much to expect human beings to achieve, it’s still an excellent ideal.
Giving something up for Lent? First ask, “What is the one thing that I really need to give up in order to become a better person?” Is it still chocolate?
Not ready to give something up? Here’s a modern alternative: take something on. Some people decide to read the Bible daily during Lent (start with Psalms or any of the Gospels), pray every morning and/or evening and/or meal; write down a blessing a day; save a certain amount to give to a good cause; write a letter of encouragement every day; go to church every week.
Once you’ve begun one of these spiritual practices, you may wish to continue it throughout the year. It would be strange to give up negativity for Lent and then to start being negative again on Easter! For many people, a wise Lenten choice turns into a lifelong habit. Should you give something up or take something on? The choice is yours ~ either way, you will be blessed.