I should say right off that I am not the best one to write about Lenten fasting and abstinence. I’m Texan. I can maybe go 40 hours without meat as I more or less do at the end of Holy Week, but 40 days? As for abstinence, I do cut back on my alcohol intake during Lent, but 40 days without ale? Ale, no!
But after I became Anglican, I decided I should give up something for Lent. And I ended up discovering by accident that I gained more than I gave up.
One example that may seem trivial but is important to me: one Lent, I gave up soda. At that time, I often drank soda with lunch, but I thought I could give that up for Lent, and I was right. What I did not expect is that when Lent was over, I found that I had lost most of my desire for soda. And to this day I rarely drink it, maybe once a week if even that. With apologies to anyone who works for a soda company, that change is obviously good for my health.
This Lent, I am limiting my online 5-minute chess play. I find that I am addicted to blitz chess enough that it significantly harms my time management. Yes, blitz chess can be addicting with bad side effects in addition to misspent time. My next-door neighbor has noticed that losses can occasionally make me vociferously unhappy. But never mind that. I hope that cutting way back on blitz chess will improve my time management, both during Lent and after. Less cranky chess, more wise use of time is my hope.
Now, of course, Lent is, or least should be, about far more than health and self-improvement and saying no to trivial addictions. It involves penitence and repentance, turning from sin toward God. I wish I could provide edifying personal experiences of that as well, but I am not as good at penitence and repentance as I am at giving up soda.
In this more important area of penitence also, less leads to more. Moreover, as observed in Pusey House’s pamphlet on Lent, “it is difficult to take something on unless we make space for it.” One important example: to be in deeper relationship with God through prayer and scripture reading, we need to make space in our use of time for that. For most of us, that means reducing time spent on less important things. Lent is not only about giving up obvious sin or fizzy soda, it is also about giving up lesser things for greater things. We invite God to take away our less in order to give us more.
Readings of the traditional Pre-Lent season point to less for more. The Gospel for Sexagesima, the Parable of the Sower, teaches we should clear out and keep the thorns of “the cares and riches and pleasures of this life” from choking the growth of the Word of God in our lives. Then on the Sunday Next Before Lent, that all too convicting chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us to give up quite a number of sinful traits, not merely to be rid of them, but so we would love and experience love more.
Contrast that to Satan. He can and does promise more, more, more, and right away, too! He promises a lot of “the riches and pleasures of this world” as he did to Jesus during the temptation in the wilderness. But what Satan delivers is death and Hell.
The way of Jesus and of Lent is better, much better. Oh, it may not sound that way at first. When Jesus says…
Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.
…People do not rush, thronging, to follow him. Take up my cross? Lose my life? That’s worse than giving up chocolate for Lent . . . or even ale! These words remain hard to hear today and harder to follow. Yet still, Christ invites us to give up lesser things that are of this world and will pass away to gain greater things that are eternal.
The Lord and Lent exhort us to less so we may receive and give more.
As I’ve said, I don’t do Lent all that well, but that is what I am aiming for. Feel free to join me.