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What do I give up for Lent?

02 March 2019

I’ve written about this before, but I thought it worth saying again (especially as the Archbishop of Canterbury has made the same point on Facebook recently!) Every year at the beginning of Lent I see numerous Facebook posts about what people are planning to give up for Lent.

Some give up chocolate, but the idea of giving up chocolate for a few weeks only to binge on Easter Sunday doesn’t make much sense to me. Others give up alcohol, and there’s probably value in exercising self-discipline to make sure we’re not dependent on it. Others give up social media, and a couple of years ago the Telegraph published a list of the 45 most popular things to give up for Lent.

I have to confess that I struggle with this approach. Giving up particular things for a short time is probably helpful for our self-control, our well-being, or might help the world around us by reducing our comsumption. But if we just go back to normal at the end of it we don’t achieve anything lasting. If we believe we sacrifice to align ourselves with Jesus, I think we have our priorities very wrong if we think that giving up chocolate for a few weeks bears any resemblance to the sacrifice Jesus made. All of this makes me very uneasy with the “so what are you giving up for Lent?” approach.

At Community Church Tadley our approach is rather different and I’d like to suggest another way. Rather than giving up something short-term, why not try setting up a habit that will build you up in the longer term? Some of my suggestions would be:

  • Develop a Bible-reading habit: commit to reading, say, Mark’s Gospel (the shortest) during Lent with a small reading and reflection each day.
  • Develop a prayer habit: start the discipline of spending a set time each day to prayer – this might be prayer for a specific topic, group, or nation.
  • Do acts of kindness – there’s an inititive many Christians follow for Lent to get them into the habit of showing kindness to those around them called “40 Acts”.
  • Read something you wouldn’t ordinarily read. This year I’m going to be reading Tom Wright’s Lent for Everyone but you might just like to read through a devotional book, a Lent book or that Christian book you’ve been meaning to read for ages.

I’m sure you get the idea by now! Surely it’s far better to do something positive and to develop a good habit that will draw you closer to God than simply to give up something and then carry on as normal after Easter. Of course, you can do both if you like!

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