I didn’t grow up celebrating or practicing Lent. At least not that I recall. And yet it has become very precious to me. I love the rhythm of the Christian seasons, including the preparatory posture of Lent. Living life in “sacred time” deepens the everyday experience of sipping coffee, stumbling into a refreshing conversation, and observing the evening sky as I return from the office. I see my relationships, in all their ugly brokenness and remarkable beauty, through the holy seasons and I’m reminded of God’s enduring presence and God’s bewildering hope. The Christian calendar invites me to live my ordinary life in all its sacred depth, and with holy focus.
In Lent we focus not only on Jesus’ life and and the passion narrative, we also turn inward. We join Jesus in the wilderness, spending time with ourselves so that we might prepare for the journey ahead. We focus on the spiritual contours of our souls and make space for something new to emerge. Lent, it seems to me, is built on the radical notion that we can change, or, to put it more theologically, that through the power of Christ’s Spirit change is possible in our lives.
And like all our experiences of growth, maturation, and development, we know that change means pain–sacrifice, giving up, removing. And so Lent invites us to give up and experience a bit of pain, not for the purpose of pain itself, but so that whatever pain we encounter in our changing we can endure and welcome on the path to new life. Lent is preparation for Easter.
So that gets me to wondering… what will I give up for Lent?
Maybe I should give up chocolate? No, I like too many sweets for that to make a difference. Maybe I should give up my cell phone? No, I have an iPad… what about Words with Friends? I’m quite fond of that silly app…
No, no, no. The purpose of Lent is not merely to give something up, especially something we like. Lent is not about flexing our perseverance muscles. The purpose of Lent is to become something new. The practice of giving something up for Lent does not begin with what we give up, but what our giving up is meant to achieve. So, who do I want to be? Or, again with a bit more theological construction, who is God calling me to be? What will I need to do differently to live a holy life in Christ’s Spirit?
This changes the game, and it invites me to approach my “sacrifice” differently.
I believe God calls me to be thoughtful, fully present with my friends and family, and attentive to my spiritual ebbs and flows. To do that I need to give something up, something that takes up my time and energy and really doesn’t feed my soul; something that I enjoy, yes, but that I steal away to the restroom to do in my “spare time” and that I dabble with instead of read, write, or talk with my partner in life. Yes, I’m giving up Words with Friends. This is your notice, Jeff Langner and Scheri Mullins. Sorry to quit mid-game on you all. Lent beckons. Lent begins.