This is only my second year observing Lent in any fashion. Each year, I've taken something up for the season, something that I felt would draw out my passion for God, that would stretch me a bit and help me sense things anew. These activities, to some extent, succeeded at reaching inside of me to bring out my true self that continually gropes for God.
The wider practice, of course, is to give something up for Lent; foregoing something enjoyable creates a void, one God longs to fill with himself. Perhaps one year I will feel so moved. It is certainly good to make that kind of room. What I saw however, and only in some instances, were those who attempted the most difficult thing imaginable, tackling it as a personal record of sorts. Or those who make Lent into a do-over, a chance to kick a bad habit. Or even those who test God by giving up life-giving things like medication ...or marriage.
"I understand the significance of self-denial but if we’re not careful, we can so easily just fall into religious practice for the sake of religious practice. If the goal is merely the giving up of something without taking up of something more significant, the focus is just merely on the stuff which we give up or really, the focus is on the practice of giving up something." -- Eugene Cho
During this season, I kept coming back to Jesus's words in Mark where he declares all food clean. "Listen now, all of you— take this to heart. It's not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it's what you vomit—that's the real pollution."
It's not what we put in, or fail to put in, ourselves that moves us closer to God; it's what comes out of us. What draws us closer to him are the acts of devotion that we create, not necessarily the disciplines we follow.
I have two friends whose Lenten practices inspired me. One decided to give up yelling. Another determined to give up ingratitude. Perhaps I courageously could have followed suit with something from Jesus' list? "It's what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution." These are examples of the things that come out of us that wreck us, that cloud our ability to see truth, that make us impatient with the process of God. These are evidence from our hearts that what we really believe is that God's love ends. These are precisely the kinds of things that God wants to transform and clean up and bring to himself for renewal.
"The practice of entering into the Lenten season has often been reduced to the question: “What are you giving up for Lent?” ... The real question of the Lenten season is: How will I find ways to return to God with all my heart? This begs an even deeper question: Where in my life have I gotten away from God and what are the disciplines that will enable me to find my way back?" -- Ruth Haley Barton