Does God care if you give up chocolate?

February 17th, 2015

Lent begins tomorrow. If you’re like me, you’re running into the familiar wall of thinking about what Lent means and how to properly approach the season.

Even in some Christian circles, Lent gets a bad rap. It’s a time associated with giving up candy or coffee or any number of everyday indulgences, habits, or vices. Nobody likes to give up things they enjoy. We’re all creatures of habit, and because Lent is seen as the time to deny ourselves of those habits to focus on God, Lent gets an unfortunate reputation. But is Lent really about not eating candy for a few weeks? Does cutting out coffee help you win at Lent? Is that what God is calling us to do?

Maybe. A big problem with Lent is that people get hung up on the symbol of the religious action instead of connecting more with the season itself. All people get hung up in that way at different times, though. It’s just something we have to take extra care to notice and correct. Really, that’s a huge piece of Lent: noticing and adjusting. Giving up something isn’t all about the thing itself. If you give up chocolate for Lent and then you have a piece of chocolate, you don’t "lose the game." Instead, you look at why you desire what you desire, why you think about what you think about and how you go about living your life in light of that.

The gesture of self-denial is a spiritual practice. We give something up in order to see something else more clearly. That’s why we undertake any religious behavior. The spiritual practice is a path leading us to see more of God and to open ourselves up in honesty and humility. Think of it like cleaning out your garage: only when you clear it out can you see the space for what it is. We’re emptying ourselves before God to be more than we could be with all the clutter.

The ironic truth is, Lent can provide a remarkable sense of wholeness in the emptying out. The Lenten season offers us an opportunity to become more in tune with the Divine because we’re actually thinking less about ourselves. That’s the turn from Shrove to Ash, from Tuesday to Wednesday. It’s not about giving up a thing you like; it’s about seeing that there’s really nothing but God's being in the first place. And in the long days of Lent, until we are filled with the light of Easter news, we are reminded of the totality of God. God is all, empty and full simultaneously. That’s the paradox of the cross that we’re called to dwell on for the next forty days.

So does God care if you give up chocolate for Lent? Only if it helps you remember that the chocolate never mattered to begin with.

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