I grew up Southern Baptist, so if it weren't for my Lutheran best friend giving up sweets every year around this time, I'd probably not have thought too much about the Lenten Season. I mean, I'm sure my Dad mentioned something about it in his sermons along the way, and he even held Maundy Thursday services way back in the seventies (radical for the time). Still, I didn't really practice Lent until about a decade ago when we joined a Baptist church that had reached back to its early Christian roots and resurrected the practice of Lent.
There are lots of different reasons that observance of Lent is important to all who follow Christ. One reason I've heard is that Lent can be a sort of New Year's Resolutions re-boot, a time to get back on track with the life goals you set for yourself a couple of months ago. While I definitely agree that Lent is a time to reflect on our own brokeness, I don't actually think we should use this ancient practice as a self-improvement exercise. Not that Lent doesn't actually have that outcome, because naturally we do become more fully alive when we are more focused on God incarnate in Jesus Christ. But, in my opinion, self-improvement should not be the ultimate objective.
According to the liturgical (church) calendar, Lent marks the weeks leading up to the church's observance of Easter. Thus, it is a time of contemplation, a time to renew the commitment to follow Christ into the difficult spaces where darkness reigns and light is rare. Thus, for my Lenten discipline, I try to select something to add or eliminate that will remind me frequently of Christ's deep love for all of creation and my responsibility to reflect that love in my daily life. Want some examples? Here you go.
- Daily exercise of 30 minutes or more. Walk the dog, stretch, ride a bike, dance. Just move! And be grateful to God for the amazing capablities of the human body.
- Daily quality reading of 30 minutes or more. Ahh. Let's just sit for a minute and think of that bliss. Sigh. Read something that matters though. Not just your news app.
- Daily writing. Now would be a great time to start a gratitude journal or a journal of reflections.
- Eliminate negativity. I try to remember that we are all broken in different ways, but too often I forget and become critical and nasty. When I do forget that all God's children are beloved and precious, I can act ugly (or at least think ugly thoughts). I need to quit that.
- Eliminate certain aspects of social media. Oh man what a time-sucker. Do you, like me, find that sometimes you think about your Twitter or Facebook feed more than you think about the love of God? Yeah, we need to break that habit, don't you think?
- Eliminate purchases that do not support local, free-trade, or living wage businesses. I don't know about you, but I get sloppy with my shopping. That needs to stop.
Whatever you choose for your Lenten discipline, my prayer is that you will remember daily that you are beloved beyond measure.
What about you? What Lenten commitments have you made?
We didn't all grow up observing Lent. If you didn't learn to celebrate the season as a child, you may just now be learning the importance of it. So here you go: 10 things that show you are off course with this whole Lent thing.
- You think Ash Wednesday is kind of like "Downtown after Five," except it's on Wednesday and only once a year.
- You decide what to wear to Ash Wednesday service by asking yourself, “Now, what goes with ash gray?”
- You ask the minister if the ashes on your forehead can be reinforced with permanent marker since yours always wash off before anyone really sees them.
- You keep saying, “What’s the big deal about Lent? Just clean the dryer filter and shut up about it.”
- You hire a housekeeper for the season. (All this ashes to ashes and dust to dust stuff will bother your allergies.)
- Someone speaks about giving up chocolate for Lent and you, eager to be of assistance, hold out your hand and say, “Well if you’re not going to eat it . . . .”
- You, a teetotaler, announce that in honor of the Lenten season, you have given up all alcoholic beverages.
- You give up boasting for Lent and make sure everyone knows about it.
- You give up sweets for Lent. Except for Fridays when you always have celebratory cheesecake. And Wednesday’s because the desert at church supper is always so yummy. And Tuesdays—Book Club. And in the office (it would just be rude not to partake). And on birthdays. And naturally St. Patrick’s Day. But you’re giving up sweets for Lent. No question.
- You have a friend film every time you deny yourself due to Lenten sacrifice. You set the video to the song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve seen” and post it on YouTube.
The dearest idol I have known,
Whatever that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
and worship only thee…
- William Cowper, “O For a Closer Walk with God”