What are you willing to give up during Lent?

Rev. Dr. Glenn E. Porter

February 28, 2020

“What are you willing to give up?” This question garners growing attention and serious reflection during Christendom’s sacred season of Lent.

Traditionally, the Lenten season requires “giving up” and “letting go” of something in order to replace it with that which is far more enriching, edifying, and inspirational. It’s a time in which we generally and intentionally shift our focus from food to faith.

Spiritual fasting requires the decision to “turn down the plate” and put aside some activities that are then replaced with prayer and spiritual contemplation. The Tyndale Bible Dictionary suggests there are generally three types of fasts: “normal, in which there is no intake for a prescribed period of time, though there may be an intake of liquids; partial, in which the diet is limited, though some food is allowed; and absolute, in which there is a total abstinence from food and liquids in all forms.”[i]

In “Journey With Jesus Through Lent,” I share that the early Christian handbook “Didache“ (circa 50-70 C.E.), gives no real detailed instruction on fasting, but it does link fasting with baptism, as if to suggest that fasting intensifies the conversion.[ii]

The Bible offers several illustrations of persons and communities fasting. For example, Israel fasted: “You shall eat no bread or parched grain or fresh ears until that very day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your settlements” (Leviticus 23:14).

Jesus fasts and faces the devil in the wilderness for 40 days before walking into his hometown synagogue in Nazareth and preaching what amounts to his initial sermon. The narrative in Luke’s gospel (Luke 4:16-30) tells us that Jesus’ text comes from Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…” 

Jesus’ period of fasting — of self-denial — enables him to emerge from the wilderness spiritually strengthened and prepared to accept his life’s ministry and mission.

The Lenten season is more than a time of calorie counting. It’s about penitence and spiritual renewal. Traditionally, “fast” is “to abstain from foods.” However, I believe there can be value and virtue when our abstinence does not involve food — but is nevertheless rooted in our spirituality. 

In “Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice,” Franklin M. Segler and Randall Bradley write: “Many Christians choose to give up something during the Lenten season, which is a time-honored way for them to be reminded of their dependence on God.”[iii] 

I am — admittedly — a news junkie. I’m what you could call an avid consumer of news. As a former print and broadcast reporter, I’m addicted to the news — reading it, watching it, listening to it. The New York Times. MSNBC. NPR. I value local newspapers, and local and national newscasts. I champion the social responsibility and independence of the fourth estate. In fact, it was The Washington Post’s Woodward and Bernstein investigation of the Watergate break-in that evoked my interest in journalism.

I’m excited about the 24-hour news cycle of media outlets. I enjoy the ability to read breaking news in real time on my iPhone. I’m casually checking my Twitter feed for the latest AP posts. However, I must also admit that the steady stream of news is exhausting. And I know that while I’m a critical and cautious consumer of news — always considering source, facts, truth, context and objectivity — biased “news” and “pseudo-news” can still snake its way in.

As the saying goes, “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.”

We have to inventory our life and consider what we’re internalizing.

A 2018 Pew Research Center survey concluded “a sizable portion of Americans are feeling overwhelmed” by the amount of news pushed onto us every minute of the day. It goes on to state that nearly seven-in-ten Americans have “news fatigue.”[iv]

In our current political culture, the news can be overwhelming and stressful. The Center also reported in August 2019 that “some 46% of adult social media users say they feel ‘worn out’ by the number of political posts and discussions they see on social media.”[v]

The recent and historic presidential impeachment hearings and trial riveted our national attention, and ultimately, challenged our democracy. It was saddening. It appeared as though partisan politics and a death grip on power trumped truth, the rule of law, and the U.S. Constitution.

As I write, there are escalating concerns about presidential political interference into our nation’s judicial process, as it relates to sentencing of one of the president’s long-time advisors.

It all leaves me shaking my head in disbelief. It feels Orwellian.

And now that the political season is truly revved up and running toward the November elections, the stories, spins, polls, demographics, “dog-whistles,” -isms, distortions, opposition research, misinformation, lies, and cruel, unprincipled dangerous political attacks will come fast and furious. 

Beginning Ash Wednesday and leading to Easter, Christians observe this season of self-examination as a statement of faith, and a period of spiritual devotion.

Therefore, this Lenten season I’m giving up political news. It’ll be a partial fast but a fast nevertheless. Christianity is about living a disciplined lifestyle. Jesus told his disciples, “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24). Lent reminds us of this truth. Beginning Ash Wednesday and leading to Easter, Christians observe this season of self-examination as a statement of faith, and a period of spiritual devotion.

I won’t abandon my civic and social responsibility to stay informed, or my intellectual curiosity to learn, but I will abstain from political broadcast news. I will replace TV and radio news’ political programming with spiritually enriching alternatives. I’ll dig deeper into my biblical studies, build up my prayer life, listen to more edifying and soul-stirring music, meditate on God’s glory, journal my observations and reflections, and demonstrate a grateful heart. I have so many thank you notes to write.

The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Christian community in Rome, offers an exhortation to holy living. He writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

The apostle’s inspired words to the church at Philippi are apropos for Lent: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

I’ll use this season as a time of reflection, release, and restoration.

What are you willing to give up during Lent?

The Rev. Dr. Glenn E. Porter Sr. is senior pastor at Queen Street Baptist Church, Norfolk, Va.; adjunct professor of Religious Studies at Tidewater Community College; and volunteer chaplain with the City of Norfolk Police Department. He is author of “Journey With Jesus Through Lent” (Judson Press, 2017).

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

[i] Walter A. Elwell and Philip W. Comfort, “Fast, Fasting,” Tyndale Bible Dictionary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 478.

[ii] Glenn E. Porter, Journey With Jesus Through Lent (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2017), ivx.

[iii] Franklin M. Segler and Randall Bradley, Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), 224.

[iv] Jeffrey Gottfried and Michael Barthel, “Almost seven-in-ten Americans have news fatigue, more among Republicans,” June 5, 2018, Pew Research Center, accessed February 12, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/06/05/almost-seven-in-ten-americans-have-news-fatigue-more-among-republicans/.

[v] Monica Anderson and Dennis Quinn, “46% of U.S. social media users say they are ‘worn out’ by political posts and discussions,” August 8, 2019, Pew Research Center, accessed February 12, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/08/08/46-of-u-s-social-media-users-say-they-are-worn-out-by-political-posts-and-discussions/.

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