Easter season: Is "giving up something for Lent" ultimately a selfish thing?

by Howard Culbertson

I've known people who give up chocolate for Lent. I've known people who give up Starbucks for Lent. I've known people who give up cheese for Lent. I've known people who give up . . . . well, you get the idea.

People who "give up something for Lent" often say they are doig so so with the goal of being able to better reflect on the sufferings of Christ. So, does giving up chocolate for a month help me to identify with the sufferings of our Lord? Actually, I'm starting to wonder if the giving up something for Lent is, at least in U.S. culture, colored with tinges of selfishness (since it often seems aimed at bettering myself rather than serving others).

Adding to that perception is the fact that I do not hear the words "repentance" or "restitution" mentioned in regard to the "what I am giving up for Lent" conversations. If the giving-up- something-for-Lent action is to be truly transformative, shouldn't the issue of repentance and perhaps even restitution be mentioned.

"Giving up a want to meet a need" was a phrase coined by Rev. Elizabeth Vennum some years ago. Her brainstorming around that phrase led to what Nazarene churches know today as the Alabaster offering. That Alabaster offering is the denomination's international building fund. [ Alabaster offering info ]

Elizabeth Vennum's phrase speaks to me during this Lenten season as people ask one another: What are you giving up for Lent?" If you're giving up something during this Lenten season (the 7-week period prior to Easter Sunday), why don't you go the next step and "in order to meet a need"?

Why not take that money you would have spent on chocolates or Starbucks or cheese and give it to "meet a need"? Let me suggest the Alabaster offering as a worthy recipient of your giving.

Jesus said we should deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. Let's not let Lent be simply a season of self-denial. Let's make it a season of following Christ in the example of servanthood.

This Lenten season, why don't you meet a need? Don't allow "giving up something for Lent" to be just a selfish act aimed at improving yourself spiritually. Turn your giving up something into a chance to minister to others. Give up a want to meet a need. If you've given up something for Lent that has a monetary value attached, make a donation equivalent to that amount to Love Link Ministries today. [ Easter Sunday devotional thoughts ]

These reflections originally appeared in April 2, 2003 issue of SNU's student newspaper, The Echo.

For a look at bizarre lengths people in Ecuador go to in order to identify with the sufferings of Christ: A parade for the climax of Lent in Quito

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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658

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