With the waning of Mardi Gras, the Lenten season begins. Lent leads up to Holy Week and the triumphant resurrection of the Lamb of God. This period of self-denial isn't about not eating meat or giving up chocolate or even fasting. The idea behind Lent is to participate in the suffering of Christ, remembering that it is our sinfulness and tendency toward self-fulfillment that required His death, and continue to vividly demonstrate the need for that death. The purpose of this season is not to trumpet what I have given up for this period of weeks as though meeting this seasonal obligation is somehow meritorious. It isn't. What may gain some benefit for the observers of Lent is the personal identification with our Savior and our guilt. This remembering of guilt is not for self-flagellation, but to help us remember our debt to, and toward the end of Lent, our participation in the Life of God despite our sinful tendencies.Throughout history, spiritual directors have highlighted the discipline of simplicity, of being satisfied with enough for ourselves and others with whom we live. This simplicity evidences our trust in the sufficiency of God to provide what we need and allows us to more effectively minister to those who do not have sufficient supports. In this same way, self-denial during Lent allows us to practice this trust in God in a small way. If Lent "works" for us, we should enter Holy Week with a greater understanding of our reliance on God and a willingness to live with less while relying on God.
This fuller understanding of Lent makes it clear that there is likely nothing we are going to give up during this season that will actually challenge us physically, but it does place a claim on us to give up something more significant than chocolate or meat. Rather, it might well be a choice to give up some leisure, rising an hour earlier and spending that time reflecting on our place – and our security – in God through the death of His Son.