by Sarah Langness
In another week or so, I imagine there will be a handful of Facebook status’ crawling along my home page saying something like the following: “So long, Facebook! See you after Lent.” In high school, it was common this time of year to hear my classmates say during our lunch break, “Ugh. I wish I could eat that cookie. But I gave up sweets for Lent.” Growing up in a non-Lutheran home and attending a church where “giving something up” for Lent wasn’t common, emphasized or even talked about, it was kind of weird. And in all honesty, I still think it’s a bit odd. I mean, I get the reasoning behind depriving oneself during Lent; the whole thing of what Jesus gave up for you; when you crave what you’ve given up, pray or think about the Lord and let that satisfy you. But in high school, and even now, I can’t help but think that the emphasis is more on us – on what we are sacrificing. There seems to be an attitude of “Woe is me! I cannot drink that latte for another four weeks.” Seems to me that we’ve got this all wrong.
I couldn’t help but think of the upcoming “Lenten deprivation” as I read through Isaiah 58 the other morning. The LORD is addressing the Israelite’s observance of fasts – but somewhere in our Christian heritage, we seemed to have lost the importance of, or at least need of, fasting. So His words made me think of Lent. You should probably just grab your Bible, Nook, Kindle, or open a new web page and read the entire chapter: it’s good. Here’s some highlights that struck me:
“‘You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bonds of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? . . .
If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger andspeaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones . . .” – Isaiah 58:4-7; 9-11
Deprivation alone doesn’t do much good. Maybe our deprivation needs to be accompanied by giving. Depriving so that we can focus more on the needs of others. Realizing that we have so much that we can give some of it up. Using the money saved on that latte to feed a child for a year. Using the money saved on those baked delicacies to free a girl from prostitution. Not buying those new clothes to sit in our closet but instead giving them to a homeless shelter to clothe a kid who’s got one pair of jeans. Taking the time to visit our elderly relatives and fellow believers in the nursing home. To stop casting the blame on someone else for all the problems in the world and start doing something – however small – to change it. To deprive my tongue of the joy of gossip and clamping it shut, speaking instead the words of the Lord. Spending time serving in a food shelter or packing boxes of food for the hungry next door and around the world.
And maybe this whole deprivational giving should be done every day of the year – not just the forty-some days of Lent. Because I think that’s what it looks like to follow Jesus. When we give, when we care about the needs of others and actually do something about their needs, when we spend our time and money on helping the hungry and naked — others will see the Light of the World in us.
“‘You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put in under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.‘” – Matt. 5:14-16