I have decided to give up chocolate from Pancake Tuesday to Easter. No, my denomination does not ask its adherents to fast for Lent, but each year I try to find something that is important to me and give it up for that time period. It has been different things over the years, and I wasn’t often completely successful, but at least it made me stop and think about habits or activities that I seem to need in my life.
It’s probably weird to some that chocolate holds that much of priority for me. When it comes right down to it, it really doesn’t, but it is something I really enjoy. If you’re female, you likely understand if I tell you there is almost an emotional connection to the candy. It’s a bad habit that needs to be broken, but that isn’t why I’m giving it up.
The Bible talks about spiritual discipline and in the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes often about bringing ourselves under subjection, like an athlete. If you are running a race or fighting a fight, you don’t just show up and expect to win. You take on a lifestyle that enables you to fight or run. A large part of that lifestyle is self discipline and it includes everything from what you eat, to what you do and how you think.
God is more interested in our spiritual health than our physical health, though His Word gives lots of ways to promote physical health as well. Spiritually, however, He knows there will be times when we need to run a race of endurance through a tough time, or fight a spiritual battle. That time might be next month or next year, or it may be today. I need to be spiritually ready, so that means I need to be spiritually healthy. And that means improving my spiritual health by discipline.
There are things you and I do daily that affect our spiritual health, whether it is what we see and hear, or what we say and do. Just like what I eat affects my body, what I read or listen to can affect my spiritual health. A little chocolate occasionally won’t hurt my body much except for spiking my blood sugar. However, that kind of spike on a regular basis can eventually cause serious physical damage.
If I even slightly depend on the boost I get from chocolate to fill an emotional need or relieve stress, that dependence can cause not only physical but also spiritual damage. Does that sound like I’m taking the analogy too far? Perhaps, but anything that I place above my trust in the Lord is a bad habit that needs to be broken.
For you, the habit that needs to be broken may be that thing that steals your time away from talking to Jesus. Are you a Blackberry addict or a continuous texter? Is your devotion to sports or talk shows taking up all your free time? Anything that does not build your spiritual endurance will break it down.
A good way to tell if there is something you need to walk away from is to see if it hurts to give it up for Lent. What is it for you that makes you shudder to think of being totally without it for a few weeks?
Of course, it’s not just the giving up that’s important, it’s knowing what you should replace it with to fill that void. Nature abhors a vacuum, so if you empty your life of something, that hole will be filled whether you consciously decide to place something there or not. So consider what new things you could put in place of that thing in your life.
In this season before Easter, it is such a small thing I suppose to give up chocolate. But if I decide to replace it with a new spiritual discipline, that could really improve my spiritual health. Just as improved physical health comes with small steps, spiritual endurance is built with small changes. I need to build that endurance, for the next fight might be today. Will I be ready or will I be eating chocolate?