Letting Lent be Lent
Seems like I’ve been trying to find ways to make Lent special forever. Since my years in a Catholic grade school when I would give up candy and movies for Lent, through my adult years where I would try to “do” something rather than just giving something up, I would spend hours trying to figure out what God wanted me to do this Lent in order to grow closer to him.
Our pastor in his sermon last Sunday, remarked that we don’t give up bad habits for Lent. We need to work on curtailing these bad habits all year, not wait until Lent to take them on. Instead, he suggested that we give up something good in order to get something better, grow closer to our God. This got me thinking. What good should I give up for Lent this year?
“Working out is a good thing? Maybe I could give this up.” I said on the ride home. My husband didn’t think this was such a good idea. So what else can I do?
I think I’m doing pretty good. I already try to serve God in all I do. What else is there for me to do? Writing my blog is a good thing. During Advent I stopped writing my blog on the Psalms in order to focus on Isaiah. I could do that again, focusing on Isaiah’s suffering servant songs, but I don’t feel inclined to do this. I want to stick with the Psalms.
I could set aside more time for prayer. What could be wrong with this? Then I remember how spiritual writer, Gerald May, told the story of how he had decided to spend more time in prayer. His plan was to head to his den the minute he got home from work, bypassing his wife and kids in order to spend an hour in prayer. This ended abruptly when his wife hit him on the side of his head with the fish she was preparing for dinner. What was an opportune time for him was not an opportune time for his family.
I’m only too happy to take more time in prayer, but what do I give up to do it? Walking the dog? Doing the laundry? Cooking and cleaning? I’d be happy to give these up! As an introvert, spending hours in quiet contemplation is one of my favorite occupations. But in order to grow spiritually, it’s good to be challenged out of our range of comfort. If quiet prayer is easy, then try something that isn’t easy.
I could give up the standard – sweets! – thereby letting go of a few pounds. With the bitter, cold weather, I’ve been reaching for comfort foods, carbs and sugars, rather than fruits and vegetables. That means all of the dark chocolate I bought myself for Valentine’s Day will have to be put into a high cupboard. This could be a good way to discipline myself and get back on the road to a healthy diet. But what has that got to do with God?
In the past I’ve tried giving up worry, bitterness and negative thinking, only to have them keep surfacing. They appear to be ingrained into my psyche. There have been Lents when life had already forced me to let go. Those years I just tried to handle my losses with as much grace as possible rather than give up something else. Sometimes it’s enough to just keep going.
I could spend time reflecting on the Sunday readings. Having been in church ministry for so many years, I have the gospels readings for Lent pretty much memorized so I could easily think about them throughout the week, but aren’t we supposed to do this all year?
So what am I to do this Lent?
Why can’t I just let Lent be Lent, a time of penitence and fasting, a time for spiritual growth and renewal? Maybe I’ll just let Lent happen this year. I’ll go back to my childhood tradition and give up sweets, reflect on the Lenten Scripture passages, and remember meatless Fridays. Perhaps that’s enough for this year.
What are you doing for Lent?