As women we’re constantly bombarded with the latest weight-loss techniques, exercise crazes and fad-diets. The automatic attention we pay to even the word ‘diet’ in magazines or on billboards is so ingrained it’s almost as though we’re hardwired to seek out ways to refine and perfect ourselves.
When it comes to Lent, how many of us naturally veer towards food when deciding what to give up? How many of your friends have named chocolate, biscuits, sugar, desserts or chips as their chosen sacrifice? How many have simply vowed to ‘eat more healthily’?
How many people who aren’t religious and don’t observe any other part of the Lenten tradition have you heard say those things? The question is… When is it less about God and more about you? When is it no longer fasting but simply starving? When is it no longer a means of spiritual discipline but instead an early attempt at the pre-Summer health kick? It’s a fine line which we have to be aware of in these 40 days as we try to prepare ourselves – hearts and minds – for Christ’s resurrection.
The trouble with giving up ‘unhealthy’ food is that the next time we reach for that favourite chocolate bar or biscuit, the little voice inside encouraging us to “make this small sacrifice for the sake of drawing closer to God” becomes so easily confused with the equally persuasive voice reminding us that “you’re not allowed that, it’s banned”.
That’s not to say giving up a type of food isn’t a valid Lenten pledge! For many people sacrificing those squares of chocolate in the afternoon or the morning coffee and biscuit may be the hardest thing in life to give up as it’s the thing they rely on most or do out of habit. It takes extreme self-discipline. Food is also one of the only things that is absolutely essential in life, and so one of the only things that we can guarantee we’ll be reminded of if we decide to give it up. There are few things that we’ll be tempted by so often, and in that sense giving up chocolate, for example, acts as a regular reminder to turn your heart back to God.
Everyone has some sort of favourite food or little indulgence that they know would be hard for them to give up. As such, in many ways it serves as the perfect Lenten sacrifice because the point of that sacrifice is that it’s not easy. But it’s important to continually make sure that your heart behind your sacrifice is in the right place.
‘I will decrease, so that God can increase.’
I think this is the fundamental basis of Lenten promises. Whatever we give up, we have to ensure that God is kept at the centre of our resolve, and that the primary purpose is to draw near to Him. I will decrease my indulgences or bad habits so that God can increase in glory. NOT: I will decrease my chocolate intake so that I can increase my confidence on the beach, popularity at school or likeness to the celebs.
We need to remember that there are three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. One without the others loses significance. Prayer alone causes no harm but costs very little of the self, almsgiving alone becomes self-righteousness, and fasting alone become merely dieting.
2000 years ago a guy called Jesus gave up His own LIFE so that we might live. He sacrificed His own flesh on the cross at the hands of people like you and me, FOR people like you and me. Our simple acts of self-sacrifice during Lent are a way to share in that Good Friday spirit and dedicate our own bodies and our own lives back to Christ.
So next time you find yourself tempted by whatever it is you’ve given up for Lent, check your motivation. If it’s become an arbitrary rule a mere sense of duty, or even a subconscious method of fixing your figure after the weeks of eating Christmas chocolate, then offer that to Jesus and ask Him to give you a heart of truly sacrificial love in return.