Peanut butter is my all-time go-to food. I eat it to celebrate. I eat it when I’m sad. I eat it on every occasion in between. Sometimes I even eat peanut butter just because I’m hungry. Until Easter Sunday, though, I’m going cold turkey on the peanut butter.
What’s this all for, anyway? The whole idea of giving stuff up for Lent is considered sort of “out there,” at least for Protestants. My Roman Catholic friends can do this with one hand tied behind their backs, but for those in the Reformed tradition, especially Presbyterians like me, Lent and other similar observances are generally frowned on.
In swallowing my Presbyterian pride, however, I’ve learned a thing or two. First off, God is not impressed by my sacrifices, whatever they might be. Self-denial is not the point, but turning away from self and toward God is. You’d think a pastor would not need to be reminded of the need to turn toward God, but given the frequency of my appetite for peanut butter, I’m thinking I might have occasionally sought peace from a gift instead of the Giver.
Observing Lent also reminds me how hard it is to deny myself anything. Awhile back there was an ad for a particular brand of beer that had the tag line, “Who says you can’t have it all?” Our culture encourages us to indulge ourselves in every way, and this narcissistic focus bleeds over into our spiritual lives as well. How often do we approach prayer, worship, or even serving others with the idea that we are engaging in these things in order to “get something out of it?”
Lent, with its little sacrifices in the form of fasting or some other spiritual discipline, is designed to re-orient our hearts toward the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us, and to remind us of our utter dependence on the grace of God for our salvation. In response, we are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ, fulfilling the paradox that only those who lose their lives for Christ will save them.
So I am grateful for this tradition and will probably participate in it again. Next year, though, I think I’ll give up broccoli.
THE REV. ED REES IS THE PASTOR OF ST. ANDREW PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AUGUSTA.