For the past week, I have been considering what Lent means to me. And I’ve become really excited! Which is weird, because Lent doesn’t really seem all too exciting. I’ve done the typical “I’m giving up cheeseburgers and Snickers bars” thing in the past, and it never made much sense to me. What do cheeseburgers have to do with Jesus?
This year I have really taken the time to learn more about Lent and Ash Wednesday and figure out what meaning these ideas/traditions have in my life. I don’t believe that Lent is simply about abstaining from things in order to please God. I believe Lent is about shifting our focus back to God. God does not require that we give up sweets or sex or Facebook in order to receive His love. But He does ask that we love Him with our entire being. And as we are consumed and beaten down by so many things on a daily basis, it’s difficult to find the self-discipline, focus and desire to fully give ourselves to a God who, at times, can seem distant and irrelevant.
So maybe we should think less about what we can give up, and think more about what we have been given.
David Lose explains this beautifully in his article, The Trouble (and Blessing) of Lent:
Seen this way, Lent reminds us of whose we are. The “sacrifices,” the disciplines, these are not intended as good works offered by us to God; rather, they are God’s gifts to us to remind us who we are, God’s adopted daughters and sons, God’s treasure, so priceless that God was willing to go to any length — or, more appropriately, to any depth — to tell us that we are loved, that we have value, that we have purpose.
Yes. I need Lent. I need an absence of gifts so that I might acknowledge the Gift. I need a time to be quiet and still, a time to crane my neck and lift my head, straining to hear again what was promised me at Baptism: “You are mine! I love you! I am with you!”
I need Lent, finally, to remind me of who I am — God’s heir and Christ’s co-heir — so that, come Easter, I can rejoice and celebrate with all the joy, all the revelry, all the anticipation, of a true heir to the throne.
The following are ways I play to refocus during Lent this year:
- Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. I hope that through my hunger pains, I can focus on Jesus’ sacrifice and find strength and perseverance through prayer.
- Abstaining from eating meat. For centuries, Christians around the world have been giving up meat during Lent. I want to take part in this discipline to feel connected with the history of the church. Also, I really like meat, so this will be a challenging way for me to allow Christ to strengthen me.
- Daily office (daily prayers) in Common Prayer. It’s overwhelming, humbling and amazing to think that I will be praying similar prayers with people all over the globe. I am excited for the challenge of committing to morning, midday and evening prayer. I am hoping that this spiritual discipline with center my focus on the incredibly powerful and life-giving love of God.
- Tame my tongue. Stop cursing. This is a problem for me. While I honestly believe that it’s okay to release my feelings with words, I do it too often and use strong words in unnecessary situations. When processing this issue, I always come back to these verses in James 3:
3-5A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!
5-6It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
7-10This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!
10-12My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?
Okay, this seems like a lot of discipline! But right now, I’m in a place where I need discipline. I need focus. I need transformation. I’ve never been a huge fan of Christian rules and traditions, but I’m beginning to learn that even though God gives freely without demanding good works and discipline in return, perhaps I can better receive His ridiculously amazing grace and love when I commit Him to the center of my being.