One evening several years ago during the season of Lent, I was sitting in class in seminary and it came time for our break. As I got up to go get a cup of coffee, I asked the person sitting next to me if I could get her some as well. She replied, "No thanks, I gave up caffeine for Lent several years ago and never picked it back up." A few minutes later, I got some chocolate candies out of my backpack and offered her one, and she replied, "I actually gave that up for Lent too last year and I still don't eat candy." After the class was over, some of us started talking about going out for a drink, to which the same person responded, "I'm sorry, but I gave up alcohol for Lent this year."
I honestly have no idea how this person could function.
Lent is a church season that focuses on self-denial and sacrifice as a way of getting more deeply in touch with the sacrificial life and death of Christ. It also focuses on our mortality ("ashes to ashes") as a way of preparing us to fully appreciate the Easter message.
I hate Lent. I really do. I have a history of doing special things and making certain sacrifices for Lent, but I really hate giving things up that I like, and I would prefer not to think about my inevitable death.
I know that many Christians give something up during this forty day period, but I really don't see the point anymore. Giving up coffee isn't going to make many any closer to the unfathomably perfect offering of love of Christ on the cross; it is just going to make me cranky. So I am not going to do it. I am not giving up anything this year.
I think sometimes we use Lent for the opposite purpose that our spiritual ancestors intended. We sometimes use Lent as a way to give ourselves the illusion of control over our lives. "If I can go without Dr. Pepper for forty days, I will enter into a deeper level of spiritual maturity and be able to better follow Jesus," we tell ourselves. We make Lent a religious legitimation for our self-help strategies.
Lent, if it means anything, should be a time when we come to terms with the fact that we are not in control and that no matter how much we do, no matter how much we give up, at the end of the day we are still going to be weak and fragile creatures in deep need of help from others and large doses of grace from God.
This Lent, I am not going to just do nothing. I am going to intentionally give up giving up things. For the forty days of Lent, I am going to try to remind myself that God loves chemically-dependent and weak-willed people such as myself. With every cup of coffee, with every 3 Musketeers bar, with every beer, I'll remind myself of that.