Last night we were having dinner with friends and the question came up.
“What are you giving up for Lent?”
We went around the table sharing the sacrifices we’d planned and pretty quickly we had a list of the usual suspects; chocolates, sweets, fast food, alcohol, and swearing.
That conversation and this post on a Mormon blog have gotten me thinking about the character of Lent and what is means (or should mean to me.)
The danger of Lent is that it too easily becomes a mirror. We undertake the disciplines of Lent because they are good for us. We eat less or cut out sweets or alcohol because they are distracting us from God, but also because they are bad for us. Or we engage in various prayers and sacrifices on the premise that God see us in a more favorable light or might be more inclined to grant our requests.
Both of these approaches are comfortably uncomfortable because they keep the focus on us. Even if our intention is purely to grow closer to God, we risk navel-gazing so long as we think our will power makes any real difference to the sacrifice.
As I get older, I’ve begun to understand that Lent isn’t about giving something up. It’s about giving up.
One of my favorite saints is Ignatius of Loyola. As a young man, he dreamed of being a valiant knight. He had read romantic stories and his head was stuffed with images of himself, sword in hand, vanquishing foes. To me, it seems that he was a 16th century fan-boy.
His life took a dark turn on May 20, 1521 when he was part of a Spanish force fighting the French at Navarre. A cannonball wounded his legs — one of the quite badly. He was shipped back to his parent’s castle to recover. While convalescing, he had two books to keep him entertained — a book on the life of Christ and a book about the lives of the saints. As he read and re-read them he gradually shifted his focus from glory for himself to bringing glory to God.
After he healed, set out on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Before going very gar, he stopped at the Abbey of Santa Maria de Monsterrat. There, in the chapel, he held a solitary night-long vigil at the altar. This was common for those about to be knighted, but Ignatius had a different idea in mind.
When dawn came, he took of his sword and laid it on the altar. He literally disarmed himself, surrendering to God. He was giving up.
Ignatius went on to become one of the great figures in salvation history. He eventually founded the Society of Jesus which we know today as the Jesuits.
So, maybe instead of giving something up for Lent, we should follow Ignatius’ example and just give up.