This has been the first year I have ever embarked on the season of Lent with a meaningful commitment to go without.
In previous years, I’ve dabbled with giving up chocolate, soft drinks, tea and other things that make my day just a little bit better. But these challenges have been neither particularly successful, nor have they had any kind of spiritual dimension to them.
Living Lent, then, has been something of a step into the unknown. Many friends, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike, laughed at me when I grumbled about the prospect of forty plus days (no skipping out on Sundays for me!) without meat.
How would I get through the long and tortuous Brexit days without a bacon sandwich to sustain me? Would my birthday really be as enjoyable without a trip to Nandos? Where on earth would I discover the creativity to go beyond my fairly limited recipe collection?
I am proud to say that I have survived! With just over a week to go, and with various temptations overcome (the worst was at Burger & Lobster, a restaurant where – as the name suggests – the vegetarian options were fairly limited) I am on track to have completed my first ever Lent challenge.
However, the question that has been nagging me throughout the process is: what next?
During this challenge, particularly in those gloriously early days of unprecedented enthusiasm for all things green, I pondered whether to make this change permanent. I wondered if, in good conscience, I could ever return to a lifestyle that has such damaging environmental consequences.
One of the less fashionable aspects of Christianity is the cost of discipleship. Jesus does not tell us that following him comes with a free ticket to an easy life of care-free indulgence.
Instead, he tells us that anyone who wants to be his disciple must follow. And following comes with the requirement of taking up our cross.
Going forty days without meat is very different from forty days in the wilderness. During this Lent, we have retreated from our usual patterns of life to experience something of the simplicity of life lived in relationship with God. There is no reason why that has to end on Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the triumph of our risen saviour, the one who overcame the world to defeat sin and death.
The verse I have returned to again and again during Lent comes from Psalm 27, which was in the lectionary of the first Sunday in Lent:
This is where I become rather conflicted. The great promise of the Bible is that Jesus will return to establish a perfect new creation, one in which pain, suffering, decay and destruction will no longer be.
And that perfect new creation is coming because God is sovereign and has made a solemn promise to his people, not because I choose to eat a vegetarian breakfast rather than a traditional fry-up. We will see God’s goodness in the land of the living because God is in the business of restoration.
But I also know this: in the great mystery of our God, we are invited to participate in that restoration. In other words, our actions matter. Throughout time, God has used ordinary people to fulfil his extraordinary purposes. The call to make this world more like the kingdom of God begins with us answering God’s call to make a difference.
Will I return to eating meat?
After all that, I suspect I probably will.
God has given us good gifts to enjoy. But alongside that is a responsibility to steward his creation, so there is no doubt I will consume less and think more.
For me, that has been the true value of Living Lent: not that it has brought about a dramatic road to Damascus style conversion in my approach, but that I will always think more deeply than I did before.
Will Fremont-Barnes splits my time between JPIT, the Methodist Conference Office, and the House of Commons. He has recently completed his Masters at University College London, has previously worked as a Ministry Assistant at St Nicholas’ Church, Durham, and campaigned for several Democratic candidates during the 2016 election.