What are you giving up for Lent? This has become a common question reflecting a common practice among Christ-followers today. The Lenten season, which begins today, is the forty day period of repentance, confession, and seeking by which the world wide community of Jesus enters into the passion of Jesus once again, eventually joining Jesus in the Garden, on the Via Delarosa, at “the place of the skull,” on the cross, and in the tomb. We hope to enter into the way of Jesus, with Jesus, and along the way acknowledge our complicity in the sin that led to Jesus’ suffering, our determined resolve to be done with all such sin, and our seeking after the grace that forgives and transforms, not only us but others and eventually the world.
The practice of relinquishing or surrendering certain things as an aid to our observance of Lent has become common, and understandably so. Jesus’ self-emptying and humble obedience leading to his death on the cross provide both the model and foundation for our own self-emptying and humble obedience. This makes perfect sense. Thus, we consider giving up something that we enjoy—certain foods, or all food, completely or periodically during the season, indulgences that have become part of our lives such as chocolate, coffee, ice-cream, TV, internet, and the list of possibilities goes on.
I have noticed in my own practice of relinquishing often that I become the primary focus of the endeavor. It is about what I myself decide to do, for reasons that make sense to who I am or desire to be, in order to cultivate my own relationship with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout the Lenten season, I easily reflect on how I am doing with this, where I am feeling the sacrifice, where discomfort deepens and even “feels” a bit more like “suffering” or an authentic expression of “self-denial.” I can even obsess over whether what I am doing is enough or appropriate or “working!” And, what began as a means of focusing on Another who gave all for me may morph into an opportunity to examine my own experiences and sensations. And the anticipations that develop over the course of forty days of this sometimes centers more on the relief or accomplishment I will feel when this is over than the joy of walking with Jesus all the way through “death” to new life.
So, this year, I am thinking not only about giving up some things, but also about simply giving some things for … This could lead to other, perhaps better, questions. What may I give for the sake of others? Who are those others? How might their experiences, deprivations, deficits, and damage invite me to self-emptying, humility and obedience for their sake? How might giving for follow the path of Jesus for the sake of others? How might I find my true Jesus-self by losing myself in these ways for others? How might giving for become a “loss” that leads to gains in terms of Jesus’ kingdom?
This Sunday the FM Family observes what we call “Freedom Sunday,” for example. Drawing upon our deep roots in the original first century Jesus movement, revived and transformingly expressed in the earliest years of our church’s founding, we have committed to the modern abolitionist movement. Each year we celebrate this commitment on a Sunday to raise awareness of the heinous scourge of human trafficking all around us, to center our lives of following Jesus in his liberating power for all people, and to encourage and stimulate action that helps set people free.
I am considering how giving for … the Lenten season may find expression in the offering of our time, energy, resources, connections and other capacities at hand. Such giving for … could be leveraged for the sake of setting people free. I could give-it-up-for “the captives.”
Like the more common forms of “giving up” during this time of year, we give for … on some regular basis all year round. But perhaps especially during the season of Lent , this form of giving in memory and companionship with Jesus and his community, has the potential to draw us more completely out of ourselves and into the many selves for whose sake Jesus came, lived, died and rose again.