Historically, Lent is a wonderful season before Easter where we try our best to identify with the sufferings of Christ in a variety of ways. I remember asking my college friends what they would “give up” for Lent, understanding in our simplistic way that depriving ourselves of things was the pious way to go. In all sincerity, we were doing our best. But I noticed a trend then that continues in many places now: Many have lost sight of the importance of this season and have reduced it to giving up external things like Diet Coke. They believe that by doing so they somehow fulfill their spiritual penance, and that the temporary denial of their favorite soft drink gives them a taste (no pun intended) of the sufferings of our Lord. But the Lenten season isn’t about giving up external things unless they are a vice, which we shouldn’t be dabbling in in the first place.
Instead, I believe God is interested more in what comes out of a person and less about what goes in (Mark 7:14-23). God has always been interested in getting to the heart of the matter (pun intended), so why don’t we move away from the externals as well?
Here, in no particular order, is my top-10 list of things we should consider giving up. (A caveat: some of these we should not be doing anyway, but they must be mentioned because of the habitual patterns of our nation, our culture, and our religious circles.
#10 Give up complaining. Not to be confused with venting frustrations and lamentations, complaining happens out of a spirit of not trusting God. Some believe this is their only recourse in difficult situations even though the Bible is clear that we should not do it (Phil. 2:14). You would be surprised how innate complaining is in our culture. Think it’s easy? Try it.
#9 Give up comparisons. Why are we content until we look at another person’s life? The “grass is greener” mentality lives until you realize you still have to maintain the other lawn! When we compare our salary, body type, possessions, or families to others’ we deplete our own “contentment tank” and have a hard time thanking God for what he has done for us. We must learn the secret of being “content whatever the circumstances” like the apostle Paul (Phil. 4:11-13). In my opinion, it comes from eliminating comparisons from one’s life.
#8 Give up striving ambition. Striving ambition is that thing inside that makes you think that if you aren’t continually gaining, you’re losing ground in failure. In the song “In Christ Alone,” one line says, “What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease.” What if we didn’t push, pull, or spend our lives climbing corporate ladders, making our names great, and trying to bring all glory to ourselves? I don’t believe Jesus strove this way, nor would he endorse us sacrificing ourselves on the altar of the “American dream.”
#7 Give up people-pleasing. If you want to breed a healthy dose of passive aggressiveness and resentment, keep this in your life. If it festers, “what about me” will be an undercurrent in your life, a frustration at the people who never seem to return the favor to please you. People-pleasing by sacrificing your thoughts, feelings, and opinions will slowly suffocate you, especially if you do it out of an unhealthy sense of obligation or aversion to conflict that is inevitable anyway.
#6 Give up not accepting other people’s experiences as true. We must stop failing to acknowledge another’s experiences as valid. When we do not agree or don’t understand the full context of someone’s experiences, “redacting” so it is more comfortable for us traumatizes the sharer. Make it a point to acknowledge others’ experiences as valid. Let’s show more empathy for our neighbor.
#5 Give up self-centeredness. Do you really think the world will cease to exist if you do not add your contributions? Do you really think your job or family will dry up if you are not there to “catalyze” everything? We should be careful not to make ourselves the most important person in anyone’s lives lest we delude ourselves into thinking we are higher than we ought to be (Rom. 12:4-8).
#4 Give up neglecting self-care. You know the saying about all work and no play, right? Well, Jack, it’s true! Jurgen Moltmann once came up with a “theology of play.” Sabbath should be a delight. Take a stroll or take a spa day. Enjoy that cup of ice cream with a friend. Play your favorite song loudly. Pick up that video game controller. You fill in the blank. There are things that God has given us to enjoy. Regularly schedule some good old-fashioned fun. You will be glad you did!
#3 Give up anxiety and worrying. I am not referring to a clinical diagnosis that requires medication or therapists. I’m talking about the panic that comes from not trusting God’s past, present, and future provision. God is not scarce of resources, so why do we freak out as if God is? Has God not come through in the past? Why do we fret when God has been faithful? Do you ever have the feeling that you are going to drown? Well, God is with you, friend. Trust God.
#2 Give up not savoring the moment. What is it in culture that always wants us to rush to the next thing? Why do we have such a hard time enjoying what is going on right now? When is the last time you savored the flavor of a meal instead of quickly stuffing it down to leave the table? Have you taken in the sunset lately? Do you have time to “chew on” and process how you feel? Stop. Breathe. Hold a moment. Before you know it, it will be gone. Ask seniors if they wish they could have those moments back. They’ll tell you.
#1 Give up living as if God does not exist. Some of us are what Craig Groeschel calls “practical atheists.” Even though we believe in God and love God, we operate as if God doesn’t exist, as if life is all on us. What would submitting to God in all our ways (Prov. 3:5-6) actually look like? How do we consider God in our decisions? How can we become more aware of God?
This is not an extensive list, but I hope the suggestions will put our hearts in a better place. The Lenten season can be profoundly worshipful instead of trivialized by external deprivations. God cares more about the inner parts. Let’s go into Lent understanding this and challenging ourselves toward lasting change for God’s glory.