What are you giving up for Lent? Is it Facebook or Twitter (I trust it is not reading the "Choosing Hope" blog!)? Is it chocolate or beer or coffee or steak? Perhaps it is something more abstract like prejudging or worrying or criticizing. What, if anything, will it be?
More to the point, why would we "give up" something for Lent? As I offered the invitation to the Lenten journey at our worship services yesterday, I was struck by the answer to this question. We give things up to be better prepared for the battle. We strip things off to run a better race. We lay down the things that would inhibit our capacity to fight the Evil One. We take up new weapons for precisely that task.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses," writes the author of the Book of Hebrews, "let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..." (12:1). Giving up is not an exercise for the self-absorbed. This is penance with a purpose. This is stripping off the excess baggage so we can run the race.
There can be, of course, personal benefits in the Lenten discipline. We are not in the business of self-flagellation because we are so bad. We do not subject ourselves to self-denial just because it feels so good to stop. Indeed, less television will make us better and happier people. Reduced exposure to Internet sniping and processed sugar will lower our blood pressure and improve our attitudes. Greater patience and loving-kindness will help us sleep better and see others in a more charitable light.
I am not giving something up for Lent. I am, however, taking on some additional personal development. I am taking a free course on Positivity offered by Dr. Barbara Frederickson through the MOOC vender, coursera.com. One of the ways to run a better race is to reduce the negativity in our lives. That can be a fine benefit of giving something up. One of the other ways to run a better race is to increase the positive emotions and experiences in our lives. There's no law against such positivity, even in Lent.
So, give up or take on! Or do both if you're up to it. But let us keep our eye on the prize. The writer of the Book of Hebrews continues the race metaphor with precisely that encouragement: "looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God" (12:2). If giving something up clears your vision of Jesus, then do it. If taking something on enhances your vision of Jesus, then do it.
Either way, keep running the Lenten race to deepen your faith, hope and love. Never give up!