Today marks the start of Lent. Which depending on your background might leave you feeling guilty that you haven’t even managed to give up chocolate for today let alone 40 days, for others it’s a general shrug of the shoulder at those Pharisaical Anglicans. At somepoint in the history of the church (if I cared more I’d look it up and tell you) it was deemed a Good Idea to create a Christian Calender to mark important occasions down each year so we’d remember Jesus a whole lot more than we do. Thus Easter, Christmas, Lent, Advent and a whole host of other days that are too numerous to put here.

Lent is one of those occasions in which the real meaning has been taken over others. Either by self help gurus to help us improve ourselves by being thinner (who decided thin was good and fat was bad in the moral code of life anyway?). Or it’s one of those things that smug people like to deride in a I’m so free I don’t need to be disciplined for 40 days kind of a way. Both approaches have little merit. Feel free to ignore Lent by all means, but try not to be smug about it. And feel free to observe Lent but please do more than give up chocolate. At least find a good reason for giving up chocolate. Maggi Dawn explains all this far more eloquently than I ever could.

“Lent is not about giving up luxuries, not about losing weight or gaining other benefits, not about food per se, not about de-cluttering or Feng Shui or about ay other kind of feel-good, de-toxifying exercise. In the end, it’s about denying yourself some of the essentials of everday life in order to focus on the reality that we depend upon God for life itself; about re-aligning ourselves with God and his purposes in our world; about reminding ourselves that all we have is a gift from God in any case.

And neither is Lent about achievement. We cannot earn God’s love, nor save ourselves. If our Lenten Fast is understood well, it will relieve us of the need to try harder, achieve more, feel worthy. It will ground us in the firm and unshakeable knowledge that we are human – we are but dust, and to dust we shall return – but that to be human is enough, under the loving gaze of God.”

So, if you give up chocolate do it because Jesus is sweeter and we need him in our lives. Find it hard and feel your need of God. But here’s 5 things that might be better than giving up chocolate this Lent and feeling fairly smug about it.

1. Turn off the TV for half an hour a day. Read through the gospels in that time.

2. Feast on chocolate each weekend and remember the Good Provider of it all.

3. Use your time in a different way, do something nobody sees or notices that really helps someone. Don’t tell anyone about it.

4. Actually fast for one day a week. Let it remind you of how much we need God.

5. Wake up each morning and remember that you are a dearly loved child of God. Enjoy that for a bit. Smile. Tell someone else who they are.

Really, do anything that reminds you that you are a creature in the hands of a quite brilliant creator.

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