You Don’t Have To “Give Something Up” For Lent

Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

By Kristen Drumgoole

I’ve seen memes circulating on the internet recently that say, “For Lent this year, I’m giving up…” They make me cackle.

Because, truly – haven’t we all been through enough in the past year? Haven’t we all been forced to give up many things? Big things, small things, medium-size things. There’s plenty we’ve given up already.

For that reason, among others, I’m not “giving something up” for Lent this year. Fasting is a Lenten tradition that some of us have been observing our whole lives, and for others of us, it’s fairly new. I don’t know about you, but somewhere along the way, I internalized the message that a Lenten fast was about self-control. It was about the force of will, powering through, resisting something I really want. I’m ashamed to say that my teenage and young adult self, obsessed with body image,d (as culture has taught me and all women to be), found myself hoping to lose a few pounds if I gave up chocolate or sugar or french fries.

But fasting during Lent was never about losing weight or demonstrating willpower. Rather, it was meant to draw our attention to the ways we numb our desire for God and replace it with desires for food, for entertainment, for caffeine, for sex, etc. None of these desires are wrong, but the season of Lent gives us an opportunity to de-prioritize them for the sake of carving out more space for God in our lives. So in the season of Lent, in this year of our Lord 2021, I am not, strictly speaking, fasting from anything. Because I (and you) have involuntarily fasted from plenty of things in the past year. Rather, I’m looking for ways to notice God’s presence. To sensitize me to God’s work in my life and in the world. I’m trying to quiet my mind, which is full of shoulds and lists and responsibilities, seemingly every waking moment of the day, and invite in Christ’s peace.

For me, this looks like an active commitment to mindfulness meditation, and an exploration of spiritual disciplines such as contemplative prayer.

It means writing down the shoulds and lists so that my deeper thoughts and reflections have an opportunity to rise to the surface, instead of being suffocated by the to-dos. It means scrolling on my phone less, and sitting in God’s presence more. Inevitably, I will fail at this. But isn’t that kind of the point? That we need a good and gracious God who is gentle with us when we fail and shows up even when we mess up?

I don’t know what you need from the season of Lent this year. But maybe it’s some rest. Some grace. Some freedom from fasting and asceticism. If so, I hope you will be gentle with yourself, as our God is gentle with us. You’ve fasted plenty in this pandemic season, and it’s OK to simply rest in God’s presence. And if you do so with some french fries or chocolate cake in hand, I promise I won’t tell.

*Love this essay? Buy me a coffee. It’s like a tip jar for our writers.*

Kristen Drumgoole is an exvangelical thirtysomething, married to Emmitt and mama to Langston (almost 1) and Sadie (7, and four-legged). She has never met a warm beverage she didn’t like, and she spends her free time teaching dance fitness and baking pie. Kristen is a social worker and a progressive Baptist (whatever that means). She lives in Kansas City.

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