Someone asked me last week what I had given up for Lent this year. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that her question caught me off guard because I haven’t given anything up for Lent, and I’m her new pastor.

I suppose I could easily compose an entire list of excuses for why I haven’t done something akin to what I’ve done in years’ past: give up Diet Coke, journal every day, exercise more, etc.

If I’m being 100% honest, the truthful answer to her question of what I gave up is, “nothing,” with the added explanation that I just forgot. I forgot to give something up for Lent or even to think about the prospect of doing such a thing this year.

Is that better or worse than the year I decided to become a vegan for Lent, but I quit after three days? I’m not sure; still pondering that one.

After I finished my conversation with my new parishioner, her question stayed in my mind, nagging at my thoughts.

I forgot to give anything up for Lent this year, but that confession could be a starting place to begin sitting for a while with the questions that should always linger behind the act of giving something up for Lent:

  • What matters, and what doesn’t?
  • To what do I give my time and attention?
  • How do I spend the life I’ve been given?
  • If I took an inventory of how I consume all that I have, what would emerge as the most important things?

This constant practice of asking those questions is a hallmark, not just a traditional practice of the church. It comes, in actuality, directly from Jesus’ ministry and message.

We’ve made one of the tasks of Lent to walk with Jesus toward what would become the giving up of his own life for what he believed in. Along the way, there were so many things he asked the disciples to give up from the very beginning of their time together.

The requests began with the nets that fueled their vocation, fed their families and identified their status in society. And they did lay down those nets, but I think it’s fair to say that they didn’t really understand the larger questions Jesus was asking them to consider.

And they certainly didn’t expect what was ahead — that Jesus’ message of love for God and love for neighbor made people so angry he gave up his life.

But those disciples shouldn’t have been surprised with the way things turned out, of course, and neither should we. It was Jesus who said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).

And even though pastors everywhere love to use that saying of Jesus to beef up stewardship Sunday, I suspect that Jesus wasn’t just talking about money.

Jesus was saying, “What does your heart love? Whatever it is, the world will know by how you live your life.”

Whether your Lenten practice has been thoughtful and rigorous or whether you forgot to give something up for Lent like me, those questions of Jesus are still there and awaiting answers from us.

Lent is just a starting place for an entire year, or life, of constantly examining what we love and how those priorities exhibit themselves in our lives.

Say, for example, that you set out to be a vegan for Lent and fail miserably, or even completely forget to give something up for Lent. That might reveal hard truths, like: intentional time for reflection is lacking in my life, or cheese has a higher place on the list of priorities than perhaps it should.

The gift of this season and of Jesus’ message is that sometimes we find ourselves at the beginning again, with the constant invitation to turn our thoughts from what’s for dinner to what our lives tell the world about what we believe.

As Jesus’ journey to the cross ramps up in the next week, we can take these special occasions of remembrance to consider again what we value and to take the time to reflect and answer.

If we remember to keep asking, then the stranglehold of what we prioritize will begin to loosen when we decide to give it up.

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