So, what have you given up for Lent this year?
I ask to make a point. And what is the point of asking someone something like that? You're curious, sure. But is it really something that should be such common knowledge as what you had for dinner last night? It's sort of like asking someone who they voted for, really.
For a long time, I didn't have a very good feeling about fasting for Lent. When I was in high school, it was kind of a fad—“What are you giving up for Lent this year??” my circle of Christian friends would ask one another. I guess we didn't really stop to think about what a private thing that really should be.
It became sort of a game, in a way—I remember on a school trip, one friend offered another friend a bite of donut, knowing that she had given up chocolate for Lent. As she started to freak out when she found out there was chocolate icing on the donut, we all laughed and laughed. Talk about respecting one's sacrifices!
What is the point of fasting during Lent? Jesus fasted (Matthew 4:2, 6:17-18), yes, but I think the main reason for giving anything up is to rely more fully on God's strength and promises. When that piece of chocolate calls to us or we think we can't go much longer without any social media, we turn to the cross for the strength we cannot call up in ourselves alone. It's a way to clear your mind and body of earthly things to focus on that which God wants us to do and learn; it's kind of a spiritual preparation.
Dave Petersen explained it well in a recent online Lutheran Witness article: “Midweek services could be thought of as giving up free time or leisure, but they are better considered as adding something valuable to our lives and as preparation for the life to come. Fasting can also be understood in this way. It doesn’t have to be simply denying the body something. It can be training for the body. That training can be good for the body’s physical health, and it can serve as preparation for times of temptation or persecution.”
But making a game of it or asking about it in the same breath as what the weather's like? I don't mean to say that you should keep it a total secret. There's certainly nothing wrong with other people knowing you're fasting; but don't parade it about like hypocrites, for “they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:16). If the subject comes up, fine.
Fasting should enhance one’s relationship with Christ during Lent in a way nothing else can. It may be a way to get in the Lenten mood, if you will.
I'm definitely not saying my personal relationship with God is perfect, but there are different ways of worship that connect better for different people. If you feel like God is urging you to give something up for a little while (whether or not it is Lent), try to keep it between you and your heavenly Father.