Giving something up for Lent (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21)

“‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Giving something up for Lent is one previously Christian practice that seems to have entered the secular conscious.  I heard recently (on Songs of Praise of all things) that in a survey 75% of the population questioned said they would be giving something up for Lent, the majority of those giving up…you guessed it: chocolate.  I know what you’re thinking – lies, damned lies and statistics, right – but 75% seems much higher than the number of church attendees in the UK, or even those who express some sort of (not specifically Christian) spiritual belief.

In truth it seems that giving something up for Lent has become another period for New Year’s Resolutions in the general mindset, and you know how I feel about that…  Give up chocolate, or sugar in tea, or even alcohol: guilty pleasures somehow equated with “sin”.  And of course tell all your friends about it.  And hey, drop a few pounds in the process.  Beneficiary: yourself, of course.  You have your reward!

In response many Christians take something up for Lent instead of giving something up – reading a book (or more) of the Bible, reading a “Lent book”, adopting a regular devotion or prayer practice.  Others keep to a traditional strict fast: no meat and no dairy products for the whole of Lent.  I have huge respect for that – I couldn’t do it.

There’s nothing wrong with giving something up for Lent.  Why not give up something really difficult, or really harmful to you.  Why not try giving up something up where you don’t know that you’ll succeed.  Give something up where there’s every possibility that you will fail.  Then see what happens.  Do something different for a change.  And don’t tell anyone about it.  Except your Father in heaven.

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