Tweeting or Eating?: What People Are Giving Up For Lent in 2012

A recent Christianity Today article shows the top 100 things people gave up for Lent this year according to their Twitter feed. Number one on the list: Twitter. But although about 23,000 people are giving up Twitter and Facebook according to the Twitter-sphere, when you break down the data by category the picture becomes much clearer. While the world continues to change, social media outlets keep expanding, and newly developed and destructive fascinations creep into our daily lives, almost 80,000 tweets this year said that its sender will give up something that people have been giving up for centuries:

Food.

That’s right. Good ol’ fashioned fasting has taken the cake yet again.  And I don’t know about you, but thefact that the most well-fed group of people in the world recognize that they need a little less chocolate, pizza, or fast-food (and, in the case of 377 people, vegetables) is fascinating to me. The question is: Why?

I want to focus on just one reason people give up food for Lent. We have abused   it.

Giving up something for Lent is, for many people, like a religious New Year’s resolution. They do it for self-improvement. They do it for self-esteem. They do it so that, for at least 40 days out of a year they could say they they intentionally made their life just a little less comfortable and lived to tell about it. I’ve treated Lent this way myself. Often times, we pick what we will give up based on how much of a destructive force it has become in our lives. I think it’s fair to say many people are giving up their favorite cuisines for this reason (based purely on personal experience and the types of foods listed).

Food, a wonderfully tasty and often satisfying gift of God, can be turned into a curse like almost any blessing. We need food to survive. God even blesses us with delicious delicacies that are more than just fuel. But sometimes the way we consume food causes our own ill health. The quantity of the food we waste contributes to someone else’s poverty. The way we crave certain foods leaves us feeling enslaved to our stomachs. It eerily reminds us of Paul’s indictment in Philippians 3, “Their god is their stomach.” It sounds an awful lot like what Christians have for centuries called “gluttony.”

Like any good thing in God’s creation, we can chain ourselves to something meant to help us flourish.

In the Bible, there is this story about two brothers: Jacob and Esau. Esau, the older brother, was the jock/hunter of the family. Not the sharpest tool in the shed, but strong as an ox and a hard worker. So he is out hunting all day and comes home starving. His brother Jacob is not quite a peerless physical specimen, but he is shrewd. He takes advantage of Esau’s ravenous hunger, and in a famished frenzy Esau agrees to sell his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup.

Not the smartest move. But then again, when your will is governed by something other than wisdom it’s hard to think straight.

Now, Lenten reasons for fasting aside, there is something about fasting that frees us from our bondage to our appetites. We are no longer imprisoned inside the walls of our stomach-lining. When we fast, we put food in its proper relation to us: a good gift of God to be used for survival and enjoyment at our discretion not its discretion. Fasting not only empties our bellies, but it also clears our heads. We are less likely to make Esau-like decisions.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us then, that at the end of his 40 days of fasting Jesus could refuse the devil’s temptation to turn a stone into bread (Lk 4).   Sure his gut was rumbling at the mere suggestion of sourdough, but Jesus had mastered his appetite for 40 days. It was natural for him at that point not to cave to the whim of want. Jesus’ example is what so many Christians strive for during the season of Lent.

But all too often, we cave to the devil’s temptations. If it’s not during our 40 days of striving, it’s after. I mean, how many of us keep up our Lenten fasts forever? Sooner or later, we give in to our cravings instead of giving them up. But every time we bend the knee to our appetites we would do well to remember what our true Master said right after his period of temptation in the wilderness. Of all the passages in the Bible, he chose this to describe his ministry. He chose these words to describe what he offers to you:

  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And the good news is that it is a release, a recovery, a freedom, and a favor that Jesus earned for you even if you can’t earn it for yourself. Whether your god has been your stomach, or your wallet, or your boyfriend, I encourage you this Lenten season to give up a god that will enslave you for a God that will break your chains.

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