Cheeseburgers, Sin, and Lent

By

Here we are again in the season of Lent – what has become one of my favorite liturgical observances. Since I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, I was always mystified by my catholic friend’s religious practice of ordering fishwiches from McDonald’s on Fridays.  “I can’t eat meat on Fridays for Lent,” they would explain, whatever that meant. I didn’t get it.

But as I grew older and learned more about this sacred season leading up to Easter, I fell in love with it.  If you happen to be uninitiated as I was, one of the basic ideas of Lent as I understand it is to give something up during the 40 days leading up to Easter in order to help you identify with the sacrifice and sufferings of Christ.  As goofy as it may have sounded to me at the time to give up cheeseburgers in favor of fishwiches on Fridays for Lent, if that kind of thing brings the sacrifice of Christ to the forefront of our conscience, then I suppose that it  served its purpose.

However, for me personally as I discovered the beauty of the Lenten fast, I felt like I wanted to sacrifice something more personal than a cheeseburger, something that cost me more on a deeper level, and so I committed myself to praying about what my sacrifice could be.  I believe the Spirit led me down a slightly  less conventional path and my Lenten fasts have taken on a different shape than the traditional model that I’d seen growing up.  At the time I don’t believe I’d ever heard or read of anybody observing it the way we now do in the Gray household, and I don’t think I’m clever enough to have conjured it up on my own.  It felt like it came by grace, like some songs do, or a rainy afternoon, or good dreams. I’ve since learned that who our observance of Lent is not unique – there are many others who share our mode of observance – but the point is that I’d never heard of this before and so I have reason to believe that it was inspired, in the truest sense of what that word means, by the Holy Spirit.

What we did that first Lent and have been doing since is pray that the Lord would reveal to us anything that has some kind of lordship or mastery over us, anything that is competing with the supremacy of Christ for our attention and affection.  As the Spirit convicts and reveals what that particular thing is, then that is what we give up for lent.

It is usually some sin, addiction, or lesser appetite that I can’t seem to beat or that occupies too much space in my life.  The idea is that it’s difficult – for me at least – to quit a stubborn sin cold turkey once and for all and expect that I’ll never stumble in that area again.  Ever.  It’s quite daunting and in most cases unrealistic.  I think of Bill Murray in “What About Bob” and his mantra of “baby steps…”  I believe the season of Lent can provide baby steps to freedom, an attainable goal of 40 days to give up that sin or habit you can’t seem to beat, to see what freedom feels like, to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Over the years I’ve given up things such as fear, anxiety, certain eating habits, or other more private sins that stick to the walls of my heart.  I’ve also done things like commit to rekindling my affection for God’s word.  My wife gave up speeding one year, and it changed her life.  In the process she realized how much of life she lives constantly on the run, driven.  I introduced a friend of mine to this idea and he found much needed hope as he gave up a pornography addiction for the Lenten season.  Again, giving it up forever seemed an unattainable feat, but 40 days seemed  manageable and it was like entering his heart into a detox program.  In that time he started to get hooked on something else: the glorious freedom of the children of God.

With the traditional Lenten fast, at the end of the 40 days you would get to enjoy whatever it is you gave up on Easter morning as a way of entering into the celebration of the resurrection, meaning you could swing by McDonald’s for that cheeseburger on your way to church. Of course my proposed observance of Lent breaks down here, as it would be a bit of a buzzkill (to put it mildly) to go binge on porn or push the speed limit or give yourself over to anxiety, or (insert your sin here_______________) on Easter morning.  Some of my friends have repeatedly pointed this flawed aspect of our Lenten fast out to me, as well as their disapproval of the idea of giving up a sin for Lent to identify with the sufferings of Christ.  Some of them wonder if the Gray Lenten observance might even be mildly blasphemous.

Who can say? I get what they’re saying, I really do, and yet I can’t help but feel that ours is a fast that pleases the Lord.  Especially when it is a favorite sin that we fast.  I am, in fact, giving up something precious to me – a desire of my flesh, and usually a potent one that is trying to usurp my heart’s affections.  In this way, it is not only a very real, focused, and significant sacrifice but also one that acknowledges what Christ suffered for in the first place: my sin.  In giving this up I identify not only with Christ’s sufferings, but the bondage of my own misery as well – a misery that Christ came to deliver me from. And when Easter rolls around, though I’m not at McDonald’s scarfing down cheeseburgers, whispering Hallelujah between bites, My celebration comes in a newfound sense of the reality of the freedom that the resurrected life of Christ offers.

Not to mention that on Easter morning I‘ve never rushed back to my old bondage.  40 days of freedom is enough to whet your appetite for more of the same.


25 Comments

  1. Jonathan Rogers

    Thanks, Jason. I’ve often heard that it takes 30 or 40 to break a habit or form a new one. Is it a happy coincidence that that’s how long Lent is?

    I have a friend who has given up watching the news for Lent. The constant barrage of alarming stories about the economy, he realized, was making it hard for him to keep sight of the eternal–the good news of the Divine Comedy. That strikes me as a brilliant use of the Lenten season. Even if he goes back to the talking heads after Easter, surely it will be with new eyes and ears.

  2. Mike

    Lent has always been too Catholic in my pea brain so I never even considered it until this year. I, like you Jason, assumed that it was giving up some pet sin. I tried and failed miserably. I don’t know whether I’m just not serious about Lent or about letting go of my sin.

  3. rachel

    finally i have found some camaraderie! this, too, has been a practice of mine, although much less intentional i must confess. it began my junior year in high school, when i was fed up with all my friends giving up chocolate and french fries, feigning some spiritual stimulation when all they were after was a stimulating diet.

    so i gave up yelling at my mom. you can imagine the difficulty of this for a 16 year old 🙂

    it was, hands down, THE best thing that has happened in our relationship, ever, even 8 years later. and the Lord used that time to convict me of how quickly i was (am) prone to throw a fit in anger instead of disagreeing civilly and seeking peace and reconciliation. it was also a fast/sacrifice that i really could only complete successfully by the work of His Holy Spirit. and that seems to really hit closer to the heart of Lent, in my mind.

    unless, of course, consuming chocolate turns out to be the unforgivable sin.

  4. Tony Heringer

    Jason,

    You know we are of like mind here. The hang up for folks usually comes with the giving up of something — that something being food related as fasting is part of the season. However, some other area of practice — a sinful or troublesome habit — serves the same purpose. As Jonathan pointed out, it does take some timeframe to form habits — good and bad. So, 40 days, apart from representing Christ’s 40 day wilderness fast, is a good number for that purpose.

    One of my favorite resources for the liturgical calendar is this one: http://www.cresourcei.org/cylent.html I like using the “church year” both personally and as family devotion for the reason sited on this site’s discussion of Lent. The liturgical calendar is “a means to refocus on spirituality in a culture that is increasingly secular.”

    In whatever fast we choose, the tradition of Lent is to take up something in its place — in particular giving myself over to more prayer as a part of the fast, giving of additional monies for the poor (“almsgiving”) and taking up new works of service. It’s a wonderful exercise of spiritual disciplines. This year I’ve pushed my clock back 30 minutes to spend some additional time in prayer out of that I’m seeing where the Spirit leads as it relates to the other two points. To paraphrase my pastor, I’m “setting the sails and seeing where the wind of the Spirit blows me.” So far, I’m doing pretty well – though today was a whiff due to the time change. 🙂

    Thanks to your post last year, I have some great additional music for the season: “At the Foot of the Cross Volumes 1 & 2” Couldn’t find the link for that post, but you all can find the music here: http://www.thechoirdownloads.com/default.aspx

    Both volumes for 15 bucks is a great deal!

  5. Tony Heringer

    One more link to add: http://ihajj.blogspot.com/2009/02/lent-2009.html

    This is from Thomas McKenzie, a Nashville pastor and Rabbit Room regular. He gives a good summary of the points I’ve noted and talks about their offerings during the season. If you are in the Nashville area, check them out. I know I would — in particular the “Stations of the Cross” service.

  6. Stacy Grubb

    Jason,

    I like your family’s tradition. Praying about what to give up, to me, is a very personal introspection that not only brings you closer to God, but helps you understand who are with and without Him. Truly, it’s something all Christians should do during whatever time frame God lays it upon their heart to do so.

    Stacy

  7. kevin

    Growing up in an obviously different tradition than some other Rabbitroomers, Lent is a pretty weird idea to me. So is Advent. The only traditions I remember growing up are the potluck and its related obesity…

    Though I do still retain a certain wariness of traditions, because they can lose their meaning and become idols themselves, I have begun to see the value of them.

    My biggest hurdle is just knowing when they are going on. How silly is that?

    I fully intended to observe Advent this year, but missed the start by two weeks.

    These kind of post is yet another thing for me to enjoy about the RR: Here I get to interact with my brothers and sisters that I would never see because of our denominational isolation.

    Thanks for the post.

  8. Tony Heringer

    Kevin,

    Sounds like growing up you and I may have shared some of the same congealed salad. 🙂

    Just jump in and explore these traditions, don’t worry if you miss the start. However, that is why I always recommend this site: http://www.cresourcei.org/cylent.html The guy running it does a good job of keeping current on the dates for a given church year. In addition there is a lot of primer reading for folks like us who didn’t grow up with this tradition. I’ve used it a ton in devotions with the kids over the years.

    As for denominational isolation, herein lies another opportunity to be a part of the unity Christ prayed for in John 17. You are correct that this place is a good one to start the dialogue, but the local churches in your area are where you can incarnate the truths we bandy about here. Here’s a story from my experience.

    My present denomination (Presbyterian Church in America) and church (Perimeter Church in Atlanta) does not hold strictly to the liturgical calendar. We use it to varying degrees because, as I noted before, the culture we live in is increasingly secular – some would say its “post-Christian” but I don’t know if I’d go that far, at least not in the U.S.

    Perimeter will hold certain services, but not all of them. Whereas, churches like the one in Nashville that I noted above, Church of The Redeemer, as an Anglican church, will hold all the services of the liturgical calendar.

    A few years back, my new next door neighbor turned out to be a pastor at Lutheran church down the road from my own church. So, since we didn’t hold an Ash Wednesday service, we attended his church instead. Not only did I connect with my neighbor, but I had a brother in Christ, preach to me and my family, give us the imposition of ashes and give us Communion. Talk about bridging the gap, it was powerful.

    The next big event in the church year is Holy Week. If you want to try something like the Ash Wednesday service, then I’d recommend attending a Maundy Thursday service. When it comes close to that time, search out a church in the area offering this type of service or ask around here or at your church. That is another great service to attend.

    If walking into another church is awkward, then I’d recommend something like Convoy of Hope (http://www.convoyofhope.org/ ) or Habitat for Humanity. Nothing bridges the denominational divide like service. Given that taking up service is something folks do during Lent, this would be another excellent way to experience the season.

    In all of this talk of Advent, Lent, etc. the goal is to fix our eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our faith. I don’t worship in a church that holds to a “high church” or formal liturgical service, but I could easily do so, because there is a reverence that is sometimes missed in informal worship like the style I’m a part of. Stay with me, I don’t want to hijack this thread on some worship style argument. That is not the point.

    The point is, you can learn to appreciate all styles of Christ-centered worship. The church year or liturgical calendar is another means to that end. It has great value in homes for devotion and as a way to connect with other brothers and sisters in Christ should this not be your tradition.

  9. Aaron Roughton

    I can remember associating Lenten fasts with new year’s resolutions. I thought they were stupid. Fads. Diets, as someone pointed out already. It’s funny (or not) how many of the attitudes I formed at the peak of my stupidity (late teens) still run rampant in my heart all these years later. Thanks for the fresh look, Jason.

  10. Elsa

    I like this version of the Lenten fast. One of my English professors (who, incidentally, was also a pastor), had a pet saying: If we give something up for forty days, it must not have been that important in the first place.

    He didn’t mean that giving something up for Lent was trifling or easy but that giving something up with the intention of returning to it after a month isn’t really a sacrifice.

    If it’s worth giving up for Lent, it’s worth giving up.

  11. Linda

    Having been raised Catholic (but now born-again), I went through the ritual of giving up things for lent. From swearing to candy…desserts to television…I gave it up. But the one thing that sticks out in YOUR message is that once you have sacrificed for 40 days…why not CONTINUE? I always went right back. Easter Sunday was a feast…gorging on chocolate and candy, turning on the TV and watching all day and night.

    My stepdad, an acoholic, would faithfully give up drinking for 40 days. But even before NOON on Easter Sunday, he was cracking open a bottle of beer. It mystifies me now, as an adult, why he just didn’t STAY “quit”. And that’s what I LIKE about this post.

    Once you let it go, and give it to God, as a token of the ultimate sacrifice He gave for US, why not let God KEEP it? Thank you for this post.

  12. Dan Page

    Excellent. How could it do anything but please God for us to forsake what we let get between us and Him? There is a degree of suffering in denying the flesh its fallen expressions. It’s a good thing (Paul said “I bring my body under”). Thanks for the insight and candor. Now to follow through … ouch!

  13. Lisa Ramsey

    Jason, that hit so close to home for me. I have never celebrated Lent. I have thought about it in the past, but those fleshly desires took control. I see how you explain it & the approach you take can work for me. I don’t know what God will ask of me. I am going to pray that He reveal what I need to let go for 40 days.
    Thank you for sharing what God led you to do so that we as the Family of God may benefit from it as well.

  14. Brooke

    As a Catholic who married a Baptist and now attends two churches, I like to share what the priest at my college Newman Center taught me…that the three principles of Lent are Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. You commit to taking more time for prayer, reading the Bible or maybe going ona retreat. You do give up something, whether it is a certain food or a sin. With Almsgiving, you give money or time to a good cause. Obviously, you would not want to “stop” your new habits of prayer and giving just because Lent is over! So, ever since I have taken on thinking about Lent in a different way…what new good habits am I going to start Lord? That same priest also pointed out that “fish on Friday” wasn’t a trip to Red Lobster. (or the Filet of Fish!) The idea of the fish on Friday sprang from the fact that in Jesus time, fish was what poor people ate. He said eating Ramen noodles would be more akin to what the spirit of that sacrifice is supposed to be. So, I do enjoy the part of the Easter celebration that involved a big meal with family…a physical representation of what we hope waits for us in heaven…after being “poor” we will become rich!
    Thanks for the post! Good start to my Ash Wednesday and deciding what new good habits I will start this year!

  15. James

    On a lighter note, as a former employee of McDonald’s, I have to let everyone know they are Filet O Fish sandwiches, officially 😛

    Now to the point of the post. I haven’t studied Lent or know all the history of it, but I believe the forty days of Lent were to parallel the forty days Jesus fasted when he was tempted in the wilderness (now that’s a real fast!). As time has passed, Lent became not eating meat on Friday. Of course, any tradition can become ritual and doing something because “that’s what we always do.” I think it’s great to ask God what to give up for Lent if you want to do that. It is also a great time to quit something, especially an addiction. This is a great post.

  16. Jess

    This is a good post to “resurrect” for Lent and Easter. 😉 All in good spirit. I didn’t get to read this last year (I think that might have been before my Rabbit Room days), but getting to read it now (thank you, James, for drawing new attention to it by your comment), I feel a little something moving around in my heart. Thanks for giving a lovely meaning to something I did not understand before. 🙂

  17. Debra Henderson

    Hey Jason,
    I’ve been looking for this post for a few days and finally stumbled on it today. (Please disregard my e-mail request for a copy of it.)

    We’ve been participating in this idea for the first time this year. For me, it’s been a fasting from Facebook. It sounds silly, but I’ve been rather amazed at how much time and emotional energy I’d been spending there. It’s been good to redirect.

    Still, I’m trying to decide if I’m re-entering that media next week…perhaps, but I hope in more moderation.

    Thanks as always for your encouragement.

    Debra

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *