An innocent comment I heard a couple of weeks ago has nearly possessed my brain since I heard it. I must admit I was quite surprised to hear it at all, as it seemed so harsh and critical and unnecessary, but hear it I did and have thought of it A LOT since.
What qualifies as a Lenten sacrifice?
This is the question that has rolled through my brain. I keep trying to see where the speaker was coming from, but I simply can’t step in those shoes and stay in them. The comment was something like this:
“That’s not a sacrifice, that’s a diet!”
…. ~ the comment was in response to someone’s child blurting out what the parent was doing for Lent.
My first thought was, “hmmm. That might be right.” The next, the one that has stuck with me, was, “No, that’s silly!” (The third thought was, “This is one of the reasons why we are told in Scripture:
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
Not only is letting others know a temptation to pride, it is also opening one up to unnecessary criticism and judgment.)
I began to think of my own choices for Lenten disciplines and sacrifices and started to question if some of them had any value in reality or if they were a means of attaining something I want.
Then I realized that of course they are a means of attaining something I want! I want holiness! I want detachment! Of course there is benefit. It is not sacrifice simply for the sake of suffering, but rather to deny the flesh, the mind, the personality of things that keep us self-indulgent, attached to the world and the flesh, and distract us of the things of heaven and eternity.
Here are some examples of how doing something that is good for you or with foreseen benefit are still (or at least can be) sacrificial:
If a woman who drinks too much and too often enters Lent desiring to purge herself of this problem with drinking ~of the consequences (and unnecessary suffering) to her family, friends and coworkers~ and if she’s foresees the improvements in her relationships, her budget and her life overall, does that negate the sacrificial nature of giving up the bottle? I don’t think so.
If a man determines to give up cigarettes for Lent, knowing full well that it will positively affect his health and his budget and is something he should do anyway, does that negate the penitential or sacrificial nature of denying himself tobacco? I don’t think so.
If a woman determines that she needs to give up sweets (and/or other food items that she eats too much of, eats impulsively and causes health issues), even though she foresees an improvement in her health and her waistline, does that make the sacrifice purely selfish or useless? No, I don’t think so.
If a man decides that rising an hour earlier in order to pray or read his Bible and get a head start on his day in order to be more organized and productive, giving up that sleep is a sacrifice, even if there are foreseen benefits to himself and his family/coworkers in the here and now.
Of course, all of these things can be done with purely selfish motives, by only looking toward the end results and benefits. I suppose it is possible that this might diminish their value, but simply knowing that there is a benefit (being free of addictions/bad habits/attachments, weight loss, having more time and a smoother day, becoming a better person) does not a sacrifice destroy. While it could be only selfish, determining that requires a judgment of someone’s interior – of their heart – something most of us are not qualified to do.
The thing is, Lent should change us and should change us for the better and for the long term. We should be different and better Christians when Easter arrives.
(I am not saying giving up chocolate [or whatever], knowing full well that you will begin to indulge again after Lent is a bad thing, nor that it is without value. We do these things here, too. One thing our family does is to give up television during Lent, with every intention of watching again afterward. There is value in that sort of thing to be sure. I am only pointing out that other sacrifices, those with long term benefits, new habits or loss of old ones are okay, too! )
To make a move toward Jesus Christ by disciplining the flesh, even with a known benefit in the here and now, DOES meet the requirements of a sacrifice. I believe he accepts is equal to other kinds of sacrifice. It says that the Lord does want our good in all things, both the temporal and spiritual. I don’t think the the Lord sits on His throne and judges all sacrifice that has a temporal benefit to be automatically worthless or selfish. Apparently, some humans do, but I do believe that things given to the Lord during this season of Lent, when given with a heart full of love and a desire for detachment from the things of the body and of the earth are well received by Him.
Lord, keep me from judging things based on the exterior. Let me leave judgment to you, who sees the heart.