What are you giving up for Lent? My son said his girlfriend asked him that question the other day, and hearing that I began to wonder how many people will ask and answer that question in the coming weeks.
The Bible says you’re not supposed to answer that question, because the answer is between you and God. Listen to Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount:
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father Who is in secret. And your Father Who sees in secret will reward you”(Matthew 6:16-18).
Jesus speaks about a practice common in His day: fasting. Without going into all the details here, evidently it was a fairly significant part of the piety of Jesus’ day for people to fast, and so what He says in that text had practical relevance for those listening.
That’s not as much the case in our day, although as I said before, it is somewhat common for people to give up things for Lent, and that is a type of fast.
From what Jesus says, we are to be quiet when we fast. When we undertake an out-of-the-ordinary activity of devotion or faith, we’re not to let anyone else know about it. As Jesus says, again:
“When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others…”
The purpose of fasting — or as we often practice it: giving up something for Lent — is to enhance our devotion to God. As we feel the pain of depriving ourselves, we focus our attention on the pain of Jesus when He bled for us on the cross.
To give up something for Lent is only beneficial insofar as it leads us to ponder what our Savior gave up for us. In other words, fasting isn’t about us; it’s about Jesus.
That is what’s wrong with broadcasting your fasting to others: it ends up being about you. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to keep from focusing on myself when I’m doing something I know is under the watchful eye of others. That scenario ends up being all about me every time.
The same goes for fasting. When you fast or give up something for Lent and then tell others about it, it will end up being about you; it will draw attention to you by eliciting a response from others. Telling others what you’ve given up for Lent ends up being about what others think of you.
But it’s not important what others think of you. What’s important is what God thinks of you. And God already thinks well of you because of what He has done for you in the life, death and resurrection of His Son. The middle section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is about valuing God and trusting in Him more than anything or anyone else. Jesus says:
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”(Matthew 6:21).
If your treasure is God, you’ll care only about what He thinks, and you’ll trust that you don’t need to worry about that because of His Son. By faith in Jesus Christ, you’re free from worrying about what others think, because in Christ, God sees you as perfect. Instead of drawing attention to yourself over what you’ve given up for Lent, you can be quiet about it, because where you stand with God is well-known by Him and you.
So if you choose to fast or give up something for Lent, that’s fine. If you don’t fast or give up anything for Lent, that’s fine, too. But either way, be quiet about it. Lent is about focusing attention on Jesus. If you hope to receive a blessing from God, keep that between you and God alone. For as Jesus says:
“…your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.”
A blessed Lent to you all!
Dan O’Connor is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Greenfield. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.