The Fine Art of Sacrifice

by Kevin Alton

What are you giving up for Lent? Everyone engages the season of Lent a little differently. Some use it to prepare their hearts for Easter. Some use it to try to remember why we impose ashes on our foreheads as it begins. Some use it to try to lose weight. Also, inevitably, many of us try to come up with something to fast from or give up as Ash Wednesday  service approaches.
The practice of chitchat about what we’re giving up for Lent has nearly surpassed the practice of the fast itself. What  began as an inward, privately penitent action has devolved into an odd sideshow of faithfulness. Chocolate is an extremely popular “sacrifice,” not to mention desserts and sweets in general. There are a thousand variations of food fasts: some rooted in tradition, others rooted in physical benefit. Rarely do we hear people describing the spiritual benefit they intend to gain by their chosen fast.

Planning Ahead in Advance
The Olympics, which have just ended, provide many opportunities for experts in the various sports to commentate on the athletes’ performance. Live commentating for sports is fraught with occurrences of accidentally made-up words. During the women’s skeleton a terrific new word was born: pre-predicted. A female commentator noted how a competitor’s chosen  line through a turn in the course was going to cost her time in a later turn. Proven correct by the lost time a few turns later, the male commentator credited his co-host, saying, “. . . and she’s lost a full quarter second, as was pre-predicted.”  Loosely interpreted, his new word suggests that his counterpart had correctly identified a future outcome in the time just prior to her own prediction—pre-prediction, in a nutshell. Our practice of Lent could benefit from a little practice of pre-prediction, so to speak.

Rather than waiting until the moment that the ashes hit your forehead on Ash Wednesday, wouldn’t your heart be in a  better place to receive them if you spent at least a few days beforehand preparing yourself to receive them? Perhaps a little time spent in prayer considering your fast and what God might be leading you to sacrifice or where God might be leading you to act? Our understanding of prevenient grace—the grace that goes before—beautifully illustrates this “pre-preparation” in action, moving in us before we are in motion ourselves. Why can’t we learn to recognize God’s early movement in our practice of Lent as well?

An Act of Consecration
Another concept that might help us re-imagine our approach to Lent this year is to think of our preparation time prior to Ash Wednesday as a time of consecration. Lent is a period of time set aside for the purpose of reflecting on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Wouldn’t it make sense to consecrate or set apart ourselves as we prepare for that time? There are only a few days until Ash Wednesday, but steps in that direction are still possible and could transform this year’s Lenten experience for you.

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