People often wonder if they have to give up something for Lent. The short answer is “No”. That said, many people choose to give up something for Lent. The goal in doing this is not to make Lent a “New Year’s Resolution 2.0”. While giving up chocolate may help your waistline, it may not be all that helpful in your walk with the Lord. The purpose of giving something up for Lent is to ask God to draw you closer to Him as we, the body of Christ, draw closer to the foot of the cross.
Should you decide to give something up for Lent, know that we do this because we can, not because we must. When we do, it is called a Lenten fast. And there are wonderful blessings that occur when we choose to fast during Lent. The idea is to give up something meaningful and, in in its place, spend extra time with the Lord. For example, you could choose to skip a meal (only if it is healthy for you to do so…and if you are unsure, it is always best to check with your doctor) and spend an additional hour in prayer instead. You could skip dessert (we don’t need permission for that!) and spend half an hour more than usual reading God’s Word. You can fast from a meal, from social media, from your favorite streaming service, or any number of other things and dedicate that time to the Lord instead.
Lenten fasts can take place once a week, perhaps on Wednesdays during Lent, several days a week, or even daily. Our Catholic brothers and sisters don’t eat meat on Fridays. They will often substitute fish or eat vegetarian options every Friday during Lent. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters hold an extremely strict Lenten fast in which they do not eat any form of meat, (including fish), eggs, or dairy throughout all of Lent. However you choose to fast during Lent (if you choose to fast), the idea is that you are humbling yourself before God, focusing on His sacrifice on your behalf, and asking him to draw you closer to Him.
Another idea, possibly in conjunction with fasting, is to actually add something into your life during Lent. Lent can be a very special time to develop deeper prayer and Bible reading habits, some of which you may be blessed to continue throughout the year! You might consider learning new matins or vespers, or praying with Lutheran prayer beads (yes, this is a thing!). You might create time to read through a special devotional, theology book or a book that will help with biblical understanding. If you like this idea but are not sure where to start, ask your pastor for some recommendations.
Lent can also be a time to focus on a deeper level of service to your neighbors. Perhaps you can bless one neighbor, co-worker, or stranger each day, and do so anonymously, for the very act of both fasting and serving during Lent includes the fact that we don’t tell others that we are doing it (Matthew 6). If you have young children, you could work together to create Easter meal boxes by placing one piece of canned or boxed food from your pantry into a box each day and pray together, giving thanks to God for the ability to share blessings and praying for those who will receive these gifts. You can also shop for items ahead of time and then let the children pick what to place in the box each day.
The possibilities are endless. And, none of them are required because Lent is not a law, but an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to return to our Father. “’Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:12-13). The goal of Lent, including worship, fasting, prayer, and alms-giving (serving others/financial support) is to focus on the Father’s love for us and for others, a love He made known by sending His Son, Jesus, to the cross to die for us. The goal is to know God’s love more deeply, to share that love, and to be drawn closer God as we take our own journey to the foot of the cross, to the tomb, and ultimately to our Resurrection Day celebration!