I still forget that it’s the year 2015, and I can’t believe it’s already February. Like it or not, the time keeps ticking by. If only there was something to help us slow down, to savor the days more, and to really prepare our hearts for the future…
Fortunately, there is something. That’s exactly what the season of Lent is for. Our lives get so full, and our schedules so dictated by distractions, that before we know it, time has passed, kids are grown, things have changed, we got older, and it was all a blur. So the point of Lent is to stop that rush of distraction, and instead, to pause, focus, pray, look around, and notice how God is moving in the world and in you.
In order to help focus their focus, many people choose things to give up for Lent. Sometimes it’s things they consider distractions; sometimes it’s everyday amenities that they do without, and instead of indulging in them like normal, they spend that time praying or giving thanks. Those are all very good ideas.
I do admit being cynical about some people’s Lent declarations. In seminary, when everyone tries to appear as holy as possible, every year I would hear passionate proclamations in the student lounge from folks who wanted everyone to know of their sacrificial, martyr’s spirit. This tended to involve treats like candy or soft drinks…
“Hey Stuart. Are you doing anything for Lent?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t really–” “Well I’ll tell you what I’m doing. I am giving up chocolate for Lent.”
“Oh. That sounds… good?” “Yeah, it’ll be hard, but I just really want to focus on God.”
Now, I shouldn’t have been skeptical about those conversations. I should have been supportive. But I’m a petty cynic. I never said anything out loud, but I couldn’t help but think, “Does not eating chocolate help you get closer to God?” Some people would give up meat, but vegetarians do that all the time. Does that mean a vegetarian is more spiritual than me, a meatatarian? And some people would give up soft drinks, but I stopped drinking those years ago (except in caffeine emergencies). Did that speed up my Christian walk and I didn’t even know it?
Looking back now, I wonder: maybe those little, temporary sacrifices did have a helpful, spiritual effect on people. Even if it seems arbitrary to me, whatever helps a person think about God more or pray more is a good thing. So go with what works. But what I am still skeptical about is trying to convince others or yourself that you are extra holy just because you have paused some bad habit you have for 40 days, only to pick it back up again afterward. If it didn’t make a difference, then what’s the point?
A different approach to Lent is to take on something instead of give up something. Different ideas could be: reading a chapter in the Bible before you start the day, or pausing 5 minutes after lunch to focus yourself in prayer, or debrief your day in a journal before going to sleep. Maybe you could add a small act of service to each day, find one person to pray for every day, or even just open your eyes wider so you can notice anybody who needs some help.
Anything that helps you focus more on God’s Spirit working in and around you is a good thing. But what works for some might not work for others, so get creative. Try something new, stop something old, whatever works. Then, at the end of Lent, when it’s time to celebrate Easter’s resurrection, you’ll be in the zone, focused, ready for new life.
Grace and peace,