A recent online, non-scientific survey by Christianity Today revealed the most popular things people give up for Lent: 1) social networking, 2) chocolate, 3) Twitter, 4) alcohol, and 5) chips. I for one am giving up the use of electronic devices at the dinner table, much to the delight of my two daughters. Madelyn is giving up playing games on her smartphone, and Grace is giving up afternoon snacks. I had to convince them that giving up homework was not an appropriate Lenten discipline.
As I’ve thought about it, there are some deeper parts of your life that you might consider giving up for Lent, for the sake of your own spiritual maturity and personal development. In no particular order, and by no means exhaustive, here are some things I thought of that you might want to consider as part of your Lenten journey this year:
Give up the need to be right all the time.
Business author Patrick Lencioni said, “People don’t need to feel like they are right, as much as they need to feel like they’ve been heard.” Yes, claim your voice, assert your convictions, and engage the issues that matter to you. But once you’ve been heard, consider the possibility that you might have something to learn from someone who disagrees with you. That’s often how we learn our most important lessons in life. (James 1:19)
Give up your reluctance to ask for help.
It is true that giving up something for Lent requires discipline, will, and self-mastery. But it also requires the recognition that we cannot always be self-sufficient. You are not superhuman. You do not have inexhaustible reserves. Turn to loved ones for support, seek the wise counsel of others, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. (Psalm 69)
Give up your fear of failure.
Mother Theresa said, “God does not call us to be successful; God calls us to be faithful.” You may sometimes gauge your self-worth by what you have achieved and how you have succeeded. You might subconsciously depend on the affirmation of others to feel good about yourself. But your worth does not equal your work, nor are you defined by your failures. Some people live a whole lifetime before they come to realize that. Save yourself the heartache later. Learn it now. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Give up comparing yourself to others.
Forget the Joneses. They are not worth keeping up with. Find contentment in what you have, and who God has created you to be. You do not need the envious admiration of others. You need not be defined by what you do not have. While there is nothing wrong with being self-motivated and goal-oriented, don’t evaluate your life in comparison to others. It’s not worth it. (James 4:2-3)
Give up the need to have things all figured out.
Embrace mystery. Dance with your doubts. Acknowledge that you do not and cannot know it all. Resist the temptation to rationalize the irrational parts of your faith, and recognize that some of the greatest things in life are those things that cannot be explained or fully understood. Things like God’s love for you, and how God is with you even when you don’t believe it. (Romans 11:33-36)
Give up your fears of the future.
I get it. These are frightening times for many people. There is great nervousness about the way things are in the world. And I would guess that you are dealing with fears yourself. I have learned over my twenty years of parish ministry that everyone — without exception — has something that they are dealing with. We all have our fears, but we don’t need to be define by them. For God is a God of hope. (Matthew 6:33-34)
Give up anesthetizing yourself to pain and suffering.
The long shadow of suffering is cast in many shades, like loneliness, grief, abandonment, and betrayal. None of us enjoys going through difficulties, and our instinct is often to numb ourselves from the pain in ways that are actually self-destructive: giving in to addictions, accumulating possessions, pursuing temporal pleasures, and cocooning ourselves from the rest of the world. These might anesthetize us in the short term, but they prevent us from allowing that pain to help us stretch, grow, and trust in God. (Romans 5:3-5)
Give up the need to be in control.
This one is at the heart of the season of Lent. It is a reminder that we ultimately are not in control of what happens to us. We cannot control others, and we can hardly claim to have full control of ourselves and our future. Let the Covenant Prayer of Wesley be your guide, to remind you that you are not your own; you belong to God. For we must ultimately surrender our control over to a God who has created us and claimed us from the beginning. (Matthew 16:24-25)
Give up the need to make everyone happy.
It’s not like you can, anyway. You may have a knack for understanding what others want from you, but you must also claim your own convictions and understand your limitations. Your job is not to be all things to all people and please everyone you know. God calls you to live a life of integrity, uncompromising in your commitment to Jesus Christ. For God, after all, is the only one you need to please. (Galatians 1:10)
Give up all the non-essential noise in your life.
This may be the toughest thing of all to give up, but it may be the key to a deeply moving Lenten season for you. Your life is inundated by competing voices and blaring noises from the culture around you. Pay attention to your breath. Take walks. Drive without the radio on. Set the cell phone down when you’re at the family table. Watch less television, read more newspapers and books, and look people in the eye when you talk to them. Most of all, pray to God, “Silence all voices but your own.” Turn down the volume of your life, and connect to a God who knows you better than you know yourself. (Psalm 46:10)
Blessings to you on your Lenten journey!