Ash Wednesday: Giving up love for Lent
Today begins the greater penitential season. We have doubtless heard much, as every year, in its run-up about 'taking things on' rather than 'giving things up' for Lent. So much so, perhaps, that it is in danger of becoming (like so much other church-talk) a platitude.
It ceases to be so first when we realise that 'taking on' is in fact a kind of 'giving up.' It is a giving up of time, of effort, of other more enjoyable things.
Second, it is no platitude if we realise that giving up something for Lent is not the same as 'giving up' in standard usage. It is not the giving up of resignation, of handing in one's work card or hanging up one's soccer boots. It is not giving up for God. It is giving up to God, giving upwards, giving in the sense of gift.
God does not need our gift, of course. We cannot buy God's favour.
Nor do we need to give the gift. We do not get anything back for it.
But exactly this makes it the truest kind of gift, in that it is utterly free. We give it freely and God receives it freely, with no compulsion, no necessity on either side. It is that absolute freedom in which God gave us creation and life, and in the same freedom we return ourselves to Him.
In short, if we do it properly, what we give up at Lent - even if we do so by taking something on - is the totally unnecessary gift of love.