For those of you observing Lent through some exercise of abstinence, you know we're over halfway through the season. And every year at this time, my reasoning abilities - such as they are - begin to work overtime.
I start to second-guess the decision I made a few weeks ago to forgo some little pleasure, to sacrifice some small thing in preparation for Easter.
I ask myself, what good is a fast? It doesn't change God or his love for me.
My relinquishing something could even have sinister roots, I ponder. Is it my way of manipulating God? Deep down, do I consider it some kind of business transaction where if I do A, then God will do B? A fast may be my way of puffing myself up in a vain attempt at good works.
I reason that the sacrifice I make during the Lenten season - that of chocolate, coffee or sleep, for example - is such a small gesture in the whole scheme of things. My abstaining from such a minuscule luxury couldn't prove my love and devotion to God in a way that matters. It's not like I'm loving up on AIDS orphans.
Why do I start down this road of belittling whatever sacrifice I've chosen? Simple. So I can stop the wee little insignificant fast that irks me to my core.
But then I realize I wouldn't be so eager to stop the fast before the end of 40 days if the sacrifice were indeed so trivial. The gesture must not be that small to me.
In general, as we walk out our faith, it's the small act that seems to prove most meaningful - a bite of bread, a sip of wine, a brief conference with water. And likewise, in the small ways we embrace Lent, we experiment with meaningful attempts at a different way of life.
A couple years ago, a friend's 10-year-old daughter chose to give up television for Lent. Within the first few days she confided, "I don't like this at all, but I'm asking God for help."
In changing her lifestyle for 40 days, imagine the lessons that child learned. Instead of being a promiscuous consumer of culture, she started creating her own by painting pictures, writing poems, playing an instrument. By saying no to the comfortable, padded rut in front of a TV set, she learned to abide in a less worn setting for a while - one that engaged the gifts God gave her rather than hoard them for some uncertain tomorrow. And who knows, maybe denying herself of one small, infertile thing for a time has helped her turn away from other fruitless pursuits as well.
A man named James once wrote how a small bit can turn a big horse, a little rudder can guide a massive ship and a tiny tongue can direct an entire person (James 3). Our small sacrifices to God also make great impact - maybe not on the world or on God, but definitely upon ourselves.
During Lent, just by giving up a small thing, we find ourselves forced to admit to our poor spirit and are thereby led to put our hope in God. Our helplessness and consequent dependence on God - not some heroic work of self-denial - give meaning to the small sacrifices of Lent.
Charity Gordon is the Daily Journal religion editor.
Contact her at (662) 678-1586 or email@example.com.