40 Days of Going Without
The story of Lent is really all about Jesus. Yes, we think of "giving something up", but it's not really about that. What did He give up?
We're often tempted to make everything about us. (Or is that just me?) There are so many times in our lives when we think things are about us, but they're really not. Maybe you had an interaction recently where someone responded in a way that you thought was odd. Chances are pretty good that they were dealing with or thinking about something in their own lives, and they reacted oddly to you, but they didn't think you were odd. It just really wasn't about you. We tend towards over-personalizing those kinds of things, because we're fundamentally self-centred (or is that just me?). If anything, that's really our default position.
People can do the same thing with the Bible and with Christianity. You can be tempted to think it's ultimately all about you. It's not at all wrong to say that Christianity impacts you, that it's relevant to you, that it involves you. It absolutely does. But the Bible isn't ultimately about you. It's ultimately about Jesus, and about what He said, what He did, and most of all, what He did for you. It's ultimately about Him.
The same is true when it comes to the "church year". The church year is a way of telling the story of Jesus every year. Days and seasons like Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Pentecost tell us about Jesus more than about anything else. As a part of the church year, Lent comes behind Christmas and Easter in popular perception. Some people are aware of it outside the church (but even within the church, it's not as widely known as you might think), and if so, it's generally thought of as, "a time when you are supposed to give something up to be a better person".
Except it's not that. Not at all. Giving something up during Lent is fine, but it's not something you're supposed to do. It's up to you if you want to do that or not. And if you do, it's not to become a better person. Lent isn't a self-improvement project. And especially in this age of social media, if you do give something up, you completely miss the point if you're telling everyone about how much you're giving up. (Jesus in fact says the exact opposite - when you fast, pray, and do good works, if you're doing it just to get praised by other people, you're in a dangerous spot. In fact, it's often better if no one knows when you do those things. Read about this in Matthew 6:1-6 and Matthew 6:16-21).
So if Lent isn't really about us going without, what it is about? For those who read the first couple of paragraphs of this post, the answer should be pretty obvious: it's about Jesus. If we are to give something up, the best possible way to do that has two parts: 1. don't tell anyone about it; the point isn't to show how good you're trying to be (in other words, don't make it all about you), and 2. fill the space (time, money, whatever) that's created by giving that thing up to reflect more deeply on what Jesus gave up for you. Do this with Bible readings, prayer, devotions, going to church, serving others; with things that allow you to reflect on the love of God for you and in turn be able to reflect that love to others.
The whole reason Lent exists is to more deeply consider the suffering of Jesus on our behalf. The 40-day season comes from the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness going without. He went without food, drink, companionship. He went without any earthly comforts at all. And in the midst of that, He was tempted by the devil to shortcut HIs mission. Without any earthly comfort to cling to, what did Jesus have? The Word of God. He answered every temptation of the devil by standing on the written Word of God. "It is written..." was Jesus' refrain, and He took His stand on that Word to defeat the temptations of the evil one, succeeding where Adam and Eve failed and where ancient Israel failed.
He did this for you and me. He succeeded where we fail, and He gives us His victory. Jesus gave up the riches of heaven for you and me and ultimately gave up His life (Philippians 2:5-11) so that He could free us from something we could never get free from on our own. Jesus gave up everything for us, and because of that, we have everything.