Two seven-year-old boys, sweaty and breathless from rambunctious outside play, came into the house for dinner.
“Would you like water or milk with your dinner?” the mom asked her son’s playmate.
“Milk, please,” the friend replied.
“Do you drink regular milk or chocolate milk?” the mom asked.
“Regular,” he answered, “because I gave up chocolate milk for Lent.”
The mom’s heart melted a little at the playmate’s manners and reverence. And then her own son spoke.
“I gave up girls,” he offered.
And after almost choking on her iced tea, the mom silently prayed, “Lord, help me with this one.”
Much like these seven-year-old boys, our ideas of what it means to observe Lent vary widely. As we enter this season, I am asking myself some difficult questions to guide me through this holy time of year. I pray this checklist may offer you some guidance as well.
1. Check for motive: If you have chosen to observe the Lenten season, what motivated you to do so? Is it tradition? Christian legalism? A desire to gain attention from others for being a “good” or “devout” Christian? Or do you desire to truly remember and reflect on the life, suffering, sacrifice, and teachings of Jesus, and to experience greater intimacy with God?
2. Check for posture: Giving something up for Lent is not the same as a New Year’s resolution. This practice is not about self-reliance or self-improvement. To fast from something during Lent means to humble one’s self before Him and rely on His grace and mercy to abstain from something that is blocking an authentic, close relationship with Him. The focus should be on Christ, not self.
3. Check for idolatry: Just like the Israelites, we erect all kinds of idols that have nothing to do with Almighty God. An idol is anything in our lives that takes precedence over our relationship with Him. Lent is the perfect time to eliminate anything that takes a position of importance above God in our lives.
4. Check for sin: Lent is also a time of repentance. The ashes we wear on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday remind us of our sorrow and mourning over our sin, the same sin that nailed Jesus to the cross. Ask God to shine His light into every corner of your sinful heart and illuminate the dark places in need of His forgiveness.
Maybe you really do need to give up girls, or boys for that matter, for Lent. Or maybe you need to reach out to a girl or boy you know and introduce him or her to Jesus. It may look different for all of us. But I encourage you to take these next few weeks of the Lenten season and seek Him in new ways, in old ways, in proven ways, and in every way that may bring you closer to your Father in Heaven.