Wednesday marks Ash Wednesday, the traditional beginning of Lent, which the best I can figure is a period of giving up sweets for 40 days until Easter, at which point you feast on all the goodies left by the Easter Bunny. I’m no biblical scholar, though, so I might be completely wrong.
I help lead a youth group at Faith Baptist Church for boys in grades one through six, and this past week we learned about Lent. Fortunately, I had some help from a couple of fellow church members who brought me up to speed on Lent for Dummies, allowing me to give this explanation for the boys:
I think Lent gives us a great opportunity to teach children and ourselves about the importance of disciplining ourselves for something more important than instant gratification. We are not very good at waiting or at delayed gratification, but the Bible shows us that people waited and God was still with them while they waited and waiting is worth it because God’s timing is best!
We also learned that you can often combine giving up something with the act of doing something good.
People give something up so that they can do something in its place to help them think more about Jesus or act more like Jesus. For instance, I may give up eating sweets, but instead of eating sweets, or when I crave sweets and am tempted to eat them, I might stop and pray for people in the world who don’t have enough to eat. Or, I might put change in a jar to give to the AMEN House (a Georgetown charity). That way, the concept of making more room in my life for Christ is taught.
Our class made a list of things we could possibly give up for Lent this year, with some of the boys being a bit overachieving – there’s no way they can give up playing video games. When questioned about this, one boy said he wasn’t giving up all games, just one.
Ah, yes. Finding loopholes is often as much a part of the Christian faith as is praying. I will admit, I’m often playing jailhouse lawyer, negotiating with God to find ways that are less about honoring Him but more about making my sacrifices easier on me.
This year, for instance, I decided on three things to do during Lent:
• Give up desserts
• Stop using “bad words”
• Grow a beard
Allow me to explain. The dessert thing is fairly obvious, so let’s move to the other two. I didn’t necessarily want to admit to the boys that I can, from time to time, be known for using adult language. The class’ co-teacher, D.T. Wells, suggested I just list it as “bad words.” Worked for me, but then a few of the students also started saying they wanted to give up “bad words.” I felt like a bad example, thinking their parents might wonder if I’m sitting around teaching Junior to curse, until it hit me that they’re copying my desire to stop using the foul language. I’m a hero.
This brings us to the beard. Granted, “giving up shaving” isn’t really a very Lenty thing to do, other than ripping off 40 days worth of A Year of Living Biblically. The boys, however, liked the idea of me waltzing into class with a shaggy face, so for them, I agreed.
But let’s be honest here – the dessert issue isn’t as cut and dry as it might seem, mainly because of those aforementioned loopholes. Let me share with you the transcript of a chat I had with my friend Cory:
Me: What constitutes a dessert? This is a dilemma I’m facing. I’m giving up desserts for Lent. So, does a dessert only count as an after-meal sweet, or could I loophole it by just going somewhere in the middle of the day for a piece of cake?
Cory: Well, it’s all in the wording. If you give up desserts, then that’s an after-dinner treat. If you give up sweets, you couldn’t have it period. If you eat dessert AS a meal, then it’s not dessert. But you shouldn’t eat desserts as meals; that’s bad for you.
Me: I think the mere fact we’re having this conversation indicates I’m not mature enough to be a Christian.
I still haven’t decided which wording to choose – sweets or desserts. I’m pretty sure I eat enough desserts for it to count as an actual sacrifice, so I’m not cheating by going that route. On the other hand, I won’t have to worry about any gray areas if the “no sweets clause” is laid out in black and white (with the words of Jesus in red font, like my trusty old King James Bible).
Frankly, I’m leaning toward ruling out sweets entirely, thus limiting the number of crumbs being caught in my soon-to-be beard.
I’m ashamed of myself.
Please don’t tell my pastor.
Or my barber.