Ah, Lent. A time of prayer and fasting and almsgiving to prepare us and focus us on the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. A time to confront a “false self” we’ve built up over the past year. And sometimes, a time to compare ourselves to others and try to out-do—to out-Lent—each other. Except that’s bad, don’t do that.
Lent, and fasting in general, isn’t about eliminating joy from your life. The Christian life is one of joy, even in the midst of suffering. In fact, joy while suffering is one of the greatest forms of witness; it causes people to wonder what’s different about you.
A big part of remaining joyful is knowing that what you give up has real consequences. So, if you drink ten coffees a day and decide to give up coffee for Lent, you’re about to unleash a monster upon your friends, family, and coworkers. Maybe not a smart plan. And probably not joyful. You’ll probably want to find something else to do.
Pride Comes Before a Fall
Your holiness is not measured by what you do this Lent. Whether you give something up or do more of the works of mercy (which are very Lenten, btw), it’s not a test of your holiness.
You aren’t better or worse in comparison to others. In fact, comparison is a really easy way to fall into pride, and pride makes us further away from God. So if the purpose of Lent is to get us closer to God, and if our Lenten sacrifices lead us to pride (and thus distance from God), it’s defeating the purpose of Lent.
As part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preaches against prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for show. Those three things are good, but not when we’re doing them to impress others. He calls out the hypocrites, who sound a trumpet before them when giving alms so all can see, who make a show of public prayer, who purposely look dismal when fasting so people know they’re fasting (Matthew 6:1-18).
He’s not saying you can’t pray in public, or tell others about what you’re fasting. He’s just saying you can’t do it for the attention. For example, maybe you think your friends can help you stay accountable to your Lenten fast or that they’ll be able to help you. That’s great! Definitely talk to them about what you’re doing. Just don’t brag (or humble-brag) about how holy you are because of what you’re giving up.