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Pastoral Reflections:

"Giving something up for Lent.
What do I gain? What do I lose?"

On February 25, Ash Wednesday begins our Lenten journey once again. This month we asked 5 pastors to reflect on their understanding of Lenten Discipline, and what it means to "give something up for Lent." They responded below:

read past month's pastoral reflections

What happens when I give something up for Lent?

... I give up my old self. Pr. David Shockey
...I renew my relationship with God. Pr. Jacob Hoffman
...I give away rather than giving up. Pr. Pamela Thiede
...I find time to take up something new. Pr. Steven Reshan
...I find things take on a new perspective. Pr. Andrew Rutrough

I give up my old self.

"When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent,' he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance" is the first of Martin Luther's 95 Theses. Paul called for such repentance when we wrote "I appeal to you…by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice… Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…" Radical repentance means-in response to amazing grace-to turn toward God, and turn away from everything leading us from God.

The faithful response to God's grace for us in Christ's death and resurrection is turning our lives inside out, living with ourselves at the center no longer. Jesus said: "If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." Luther wrote that baptism means "our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever."

Such radical repentance was characteristic of the earliest Christ-followers: "They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers…. they would sell their possessions…and distribute the proceeds as any had need… And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved."

Here are all the "Lenten spiritual disciplines" so vibrantly alive that non-believers are completely captivated. Reveling in the grace of God, Christ-followers turned in wholehearted devotion to God's Word, true spiritual relationships in home groups, worship centered on Christ's presence in his Supper, prayer, generous giving, serving and witnessing joyfully. Such "disciplines" are the hands of God forming disciples. Lent is not about "giving up" TV or chocolates, but turning from our selves to encounter God in his Word or prayer, and to serve our neighbors needs. Lent (like repentance itself) means "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." This Lent, give up your old self for your new self--Christ!

Pr. David Shockey
Hebron Lutheran Church
Hebron, Kentucky

I renew my relationship with God.

I'm happy to be invited to think and then share my thinking about "giving up" something for Lent early this year. I confess to often postponing this consideration until it becomes just one more thing to do in the Ash Wednesday rush.

The liturgy for this day does give us deadline and direction. "As disciples of the Lord Jesus we are called to struggle against everything that leads us away from love of God and neighbor. Repentance, fasting, prayer, and works of love - the discipline of Lent - help us wage our spiritual warfare." Lenten preparation is much like Advent. Early is good.

I'll also suggest that what we do may be only a little more important than why, and why is likely a reliable indicator of how it's been with God for us lately. In other words, we can give something up to work on that relationship or we can do it in thankfulness for how good God is. I've done it for both reasons and although a willingness to be molded by the Spirit is surely commendable and can be fruitful, I believe the latter is usually more meaningful.

My thinking time also leads me to consider the act of giving something "up" for Lent. Is this different than merely giving something "to" or giving it "down" or …? Does this direction (up!) not suggest that what we do or don't do is our gift to God, an offering, an act of worship? And should this awareness not influence what it is? If I decide, for example, to give something up in order to also lose some weigh, who is being gifted? This is what I mean by the "why" being as telling as the "what."

Finally, and frankly, I have found my most helpful discipline has often been the "giving up" of some of the time I have been given in order to show my thanks, to affirm my place before God or to grow in grace and service.

Giving up something for Lent is itself a gift from God.

Pastor Jacob H. Hoffman,
Lafayette, Indiana

I give away rather than giving up.

I've always wondered why people "give something up" for Lent. I was told we make a sacrifice in our lives to remind us of Jesus' sacrifice for us on the cross. Yet, I see people give up chocolate, sweets, or caffeine just to indulge again on Easter. Then, they pass off this act of piety as no big deal (humility?) or because it is trivial to them, they blithely say, "I gave that up for Lent." It just never seemed like much of a sacrifice to me, nor was that Lenten discipline "done in secret" as directed in Matthew 6.

It seems to me that the "acts of righteousness" we choose as our Lenten discipline should be more about giving than giving up. Jesus talks about giving to the needy, praying, and fasting. OK, fasting is giving up food for a period of time in order that the time is more available for prayer and meditation.

Rather than encouraging "giving up" for Lent as a means of temporarily denying oneself of something we may or may not miss, I would suggest "giving" for Lent. Find a charity that needs your time or expertise and volunteer during Lent. Go the extra mile in your financial giving--tithe during Lent if you do not do so regularly; or if you do, give something extra weekly to World Hunger, Disaster Relief, or another worthy recipient.

Expand your personal spiritual practice. If regular prayer or devotional time is not part of your routine, try it for 40 days. Try a new form of prayer or study. True, we may have to give something up in order to give something more during Lent, but then the giving up will have a purpose.

It will not be easily trivialized. And who knows, once you try it for a Lenten season, you may find that you like it. It may strengthen your faith and your relationship with God more than merely "giving up" would do.

Pastor Pamela Thiede
St. Peter's Lutheran Church (Bear Branch)
Dillsboro, Indiana

I find time to take up something new.

Then Jesus said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." - St. Luke 9.23

"As disciples of the Lord Jesus we are called to struggle against everything that leads us away from the love of God and neighbor. Repentance, fasting, prayer, and works of love - the discipline of Lent - help us to wage our spiritual warfare." - from the Ash Wednesday exhortation, MDE, p. 129

Historically, Lent has been a time of preparation of candidates for Baptism. It is also understood as a time for the baptized to reflect upon their Baptism - its basis in the death and resurrection of Christ, as well as its implications for a daily dying and rising with Christ.

Lent has also been a time in the church year when people give up something as a part of their spiritual discipline. That may be a good thing, I suppose, but at the end of Lent, most people I know take up again whatever it is they've given up for the season.

I might suggest that instead of giving up something in Lent, we might take up something. If Lent is a time to reflect upon our life in Christ, reflect upon, prayerfully, what things in our lives 'lead us away from the love of God and neighbor.'

Perhaps such taking up might involve more time set aside for prayer each day, attending that bible study at church you've always meant to attend, volunteering at a local food bank, being a mentor or a tutor to a grade school child.

The challenge of taking up something for Lent, would be not to lay it down once Lent is over. Asking God to help us incorporate a new spiritual discipline into our daily journey of faith may be the first, and most important step.

"Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." - Prayer of St. Francis, LBW, p.48

Pr. Steven Reshan -
Augustana Lutheran Church,
Elkhart, In

I find things take on a new perspective.

Sometimes my wife and I give up chocolate for lent. (Yes, we actually survive!) Most of the time it is a kind of secret discipline. No one notices, except when one of our friends offers us a piece of chocolate cake. "No thanks," we said. "Why?" "Um, uh, because we gave up chocolate for lent." "Oh."

It feels rather strange, giving up something for lent. In a culture that almost deifies the idea of more---more money, more excitement, more freedom, more security---actually giving up something can seem downright weird. Mind you, this is not giving up something in order to gain something greater, like working hard for a promotion or training long hours for a sports victory. That we understand.

Instead, this is giving up something with the express purpose of having less.
There are two reasons for having less in lent. First, because too much gets between us and God. For example, if I feel I am making a god out of video games, letting them take me away from family, and neglecting quiet time and prayer because of them, then I may give up video games for lent.

Consider this: Are you making a god out of your work? Are you using it as the source of your self worth, instead of trusting God who made you good in the first place? If so, maybe you should give up some of your work for lent. Use the time to focus on God's love instead. The idea is to clear things out of the way, to let things go, to lean back into the deep and blessing love of God.

Second, we give things up for lent because it's hard. Usually, we try to avoid suffering. During lent, suffering is, in part, the point. A little suffering, even such a tiny gesture as refraining from chocolate, reminds us in a tangible way of Jesus' suffering. That reminder makes us more deeply aware of Jesus' upside down salvation: God did not save us by force or grandeur, but by suffering love. How can we carry out that suffering love too?

Pastor Andrew Rutrough,
St. Thomas Lutheran Church
Richmond, Indiana

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