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  • Kingsley East

Lenten Reflection: On Giving up Nothing

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God--not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” -Ephesians 2:8-10

This year for Lent, I gave up nothing. We started off the season with Ash Wednesday on Valentine's Day, which also marked 4 years of me dating my husband, and I was not in the mood for ashes and death. As my friends and colleagues at church began fasting from sweets, I ate my donuts and dark chocolate alone, with a little edge of rebellion. I am a Protestant after all; so, I don't really have to do Lent. One of my friends on staff told me that first week of Lent, as I explained that I'm just not feeling it this year,

"Lent always finds us anyways."

I imagine that many of you don't practice Lent either, so you're in the same boat as me this year. Lent is for the Catholics or the dieters who didn't stick to their New Years' resolutions. I never practiced Lent before learning more about this Christian season in seminary. I tried it out as an experiment to connect with God in a new way while I was experiencing Bible reading and my other typical Christian disciplines as homework. To my great surprise, I loved Lent!

Giving up some simple pleasure led me to pray throughout each week as I let go of the craving or habit of having that thing. Then, on Saturdays at sunset, I connected with God through the gift of that pleasure in a whole new way. I felt God's presence with me, tangibly, and I met with God without any hurry or agenda. I just enjoyed being with God and taking the time to be genuinely grateful for God's gifts that fill my life.

It's these little gifts that we consider giving up for Lent that can become reminders that point us to God each day.

Now, I say these are simple pleasures, but if you've given anything up--from sweets or meat, to coffee or alcohol, to social media or television, you know that these are not actually little things. The purpose of Lent would be lost if we only gave up a food we eat twice a year or an exercise we never do or homework. For Lent to "work," we have to actually give something up that is a sacrifice. The goal is to connect with Jesus in the wilderness, where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and was tempted by Satan. Oftentimes, fasts bring up temptations and reveal our sin. We become hangry or possessive or depressed. Part of the work in fasting is to fix our eyes on Jesus and learn to rely on him through each temptation.

As I said at the beginning, for this year's Lent, I gave up nothing. But I was introduced to an untraditional way of doing Lent that's been on my mind throughout this whole season. In her book 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast., Alicia Britt Chole invites readers into a nontraditional fast. What if we fasted from comparison? Denial? Perfectionism? Pessimism? Anxiety? (I haven't read the book and don't know what all she covers, but I was compelled by this idea to consider the myriad of internal struggles I have like these.) I've noticed in myself an inability to get over myself and some of these habitual thought processes that can rule my mindset and ruin my day (and probably my husband's day too).

So, without much of a conscious effort, since the beginning of Lent, I've started noticing when I allow my circumstances to dominate my thinking, emotions, and attitude. I've realized, slowly, that I have agency over how I let many things affect me (not all things--I'm not saying that we can just choose a positive emotion any time something goes wrong, or that we shouldn't allow ourselves to mourn and lament hard things. Jesus wept...) But many times in a typical day in my life, I have a real choice about how I'm going to respond. And for a long time, I've allowed myself to cycle into a negative feedback loop or focus on the 10% of bad instead of the 90% of good in my life.

Again, I didn't make any goals for this season or expect any transformation, but here at the end of Lent, I've noticed a new spirit awakening inside of me. I feel peace. I sense a new resolve in myself to slow down and think about how I will react and how long I will react to negative thoughts, emotions, and circumstances. Does my dirty house really need to sour my mood all night? When our dog eats my lunch off the counter, is it really going to help for me to yell at her? When I can't find a parking spot up a 4-floor garage, should I let myself burn with rage or just enjoy the radio a little longer?

I've realized this week that despite my lack of effort, Lent found me anyways.

Sometimes just being aware of a new idea or change we'd like to live into can slowly transform us. Sometimes all we need is mustard seed faith for something new to grow within us. At the end of the day, no matter how much effort we put into a season like Lent, we're not the ones who make ourselves new. God makes us new; God creates new life in us. God invites us to participate in this transformation--turn your eyes upon Jesus, read the Bible, show up to worship services and lean into the life of your church community. But God is ultimately the Giver who transforms our lives.

As we enter into this Easter weekend, the highest days in the life of the church, I invite us to remember and reflect on what it really means that we worship the God of resurrection. God transforms death and despair into new life. Here are a few questions to consider this Holy Week:

  1. Where might God be inviting you to participate with Him in transforming some part of yourself and your life?

  2. What might you need to give up, to lay at the cross this weekend, so that God might put it death and raise you into new life?

  3. As we enter into a season of celebration in the life of the church, are there habits or thoughts holding you back from really embracing the new life that God offers us?

Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are made new. We are given new life. We receive a new identity as free, beloved, and whole. But we still live in a world dominated by sin and death. This week, let the hope and faith we have in God--to bring His good work to completion and renew all things--transform us.

Your fellow pilgrim,


Song Recommendation: "Not in a Hurry," Will Reagan/United Pursuit

This is one of my go-to quiet time songs because it reminds me that the point of prayer, Scripture reading, etc. is not to accomplish something but to slow down and connect with God. We can't rush this.

Book Recommendation: The Making of Biblical Womanhood, Beth Allison Barr

I've been reading all sorts of books on women in ministry in preparation for a talk I'm giving next month. Assuming most of you don't want/have time to do a deep dive in biblical commentaries, Greek word studies, and scholarly debates, I'm recommending this more popular read on the subject. Barr is a history professor at Baylor and faithful Christian, who you may disagree with (and that's ok!). I'm speaking to my former church about this topic, and it's ok that we disagree too! Incase it's not obvious by my blog and job, I do support women in ministry and hope you'll consider multiple ways that Christians interpret the Scriptures and seek to faithfully live out God's calling on their lives.

Note: On the fourth Sunday in Lent, I preached a sermon on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21 called "Turn your Eyes upon Jesus and Live." Listen or read at these links!


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