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Every year when Lent rolls around, I think back to an experience at a previous church.  During our Ash Wednesday service, we all passed around post-it notes and wrote down the things we planned to give up.  It was then my task to take those post-it notes and put them in the shape of a cross in our foyer so that people would be reminded of their vows as they entered the church.  The only problem was that I read the vows as I was putting them together, and I quickly noticed a pattern:

Chocolate.  Chocolate.  Chocolate.  Sweets.  Chocolate.  Meat.  Chocolate.  Chocolate.  Beer.  Fried food.  Chocolate.  Chocolate.  Soda.  Dessert.  Sweets.  Chocolate.  Chocolate.  Chocolate.  Swearing.  Chocolate.

It went on like this until I finally encountered the one Lenten vow that pushed me over the edge: “lose 10 pounds.”  That post-it note never made it onto our cross; it went into my trashcan.  If your goal for Lent is just to drop a dress size, then we need to talk about what this season really means.

Lent doesn’t appear in the Bible, but the concept of fasting is all over the place in Scripture.  Fasting involves giving up something (food, TV, swearing, etc.) to remind ourselves of the privileges in our lives and the misfortune others face by comparison.  When we give up chocolate, we are reminding ourselves that many people cannot afford such an indulgence.  It’s not about fitting back into our college jeans; it’s about putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and getting a small taste of the pain they feel every day (and maybe getting just a tiny glimpse of Jesus’s pain on the cross while we’re at it).

Perhaps the most convicting description of fasting comes to us from Isaiah 58.  In this passage, Isaiah tells us that a true fast shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves; it should help to loose the bonds of injustice and break the yoke of the oppressed.  Can our Lent vows really accomplish that?  I think they can, so I’d like to issue a challenge:

Let’s rethink this season, and in addition to giving something up, let’s also take something on.  Instead of just giving up chocolate, we can also serve the hungry at Faith Café.  Instead of just giving up TV, we can also commit to spending more time listening to family and friends.  Instead of just giving up swearing, let’s work on being more loving and accepting of the people who might have made us swear in the first place.

This Lent, don’t just give something up; take something on that will help the people around you.  Let’s make this Lent a true Isaiah 58 fast as we look with expectation toward Good Friday and to Easter.

Grace and Peace,