Monday, February 9, 2015

Do I really have to give something up for Lent?

With Lent almost upon us it is time again to start thinking about what I will give up this year. But why should I have to give up anything? Why do we celebrate Lent every year?

 It’s all about the suffering right? God likes it when we suffer. The more I suffer the more it shows that I love God. And then I look at my crucifix and I see what true suffering is all about. How does my giving up diet coke for forty days really compare to that?

The answer is it doesn’t. There is no amount of suffering I can endure that even comes close to that of Jesus’ suffering. God is neither happy that I suffer nor impressed when I do. Suffering was not his plan for creation. He made us perfect and placed us in paradise with only one little condition – obey the one rule - do not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. When we fell to temptation we fell from grace and suffering was the consequence. Suffering is an everyday occurrence and not the reason for this season of Lent.

Lent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the greatest miracle of all time – the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, son of God, for the salvation and redemption of all who love him. Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that begins forty days before Easter Sunday. Giving up something is fasting – voluntarily denying ourselves of something pleasurable. So why do we do this?

One of the first words a child masters is the word – mine. That toy is mine. That food is mine. It denotes ownership of an object. Most adults never grow out of this stage, in fact this is the driving force in many adult lives. He who dies with the most stuff wins.

 But true Christians know that everything we have comes from God. It is his and we are just called upon to be stewards of it. What can I offer to God that he didn’t give to me first? It is like me buying myself a birthday gift and then giving it to my five year old son to give to me on my birthday. He is so proud of the gift he got for his daddy.

The one thing that I have that is mine and that God respects is my free will. God loves me so much and respects my free will to the point that he is willing to allow me to spend eternity in hell if that is my desire. When we fast we exercise our free will. When we give up something pleasurable through the temptation and offer it up to God we truly offer a gift that pleases him. He is not impressed with our suffering but he is pleased with our self-disciple and denial, to show our love for him.

If my fast is a token fast, that is, giving up something I don’t normally do anyway I am not really showing love to God. If my fast is great but I do it as a show for everyone I am not really trying to please God. I am hoping for the adoration of those around me. I have my reward whether anyone even notices or not. Our fasts don’t have to be great to be a gift. Small fasts done with love are great gifts to the Lord. They are also not something reserved only for Lent. We should fast from something every day and offer it up to the Lord. It doesn’t have to be the same thing day after day. It could be giving up that extra cookie or spending an hour you normally would be watching TV in prayer instead. Married people can refrain from the marriage act and offer it as a fast. Any fast done with love is a great fast.

Our free will is like our muscles. If we do not exercise it, it becomes weak. It can become so weak that it can no longer function and you find that you cannot resist temptation. The devil loves spiritual couch potatoes. They are easy to manipulate and to turn from the Lord. The devil hates spiritual gym rats who exercise their free will daily. They can look even the hardest temptation in the eye with a chuckle.

Let us use this Lent as a springboard to get off our spiritual couches and exercise our free wills. Privately give up something meaningful and offer it as a gift of love to our Lord. When Easter is here and our feast has ended let us continue to offer up something small every day and keep our free will muscle in tip top shape.

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