Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent is coming up on March 5. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter [Lent doesn’t count Sundays, since every Sunday we are celebrating Easter]. It has been an ancient practice in the church to do some activities during Lent to help us focus on our faith and all that Jesus has done for us. Prayer, fasting [giving something up], and almsgiving [giving money to the poor] are the traditional practices of Lent.
Roman Catholics traditionally practice Lenten disciplines, but they are by no means the only Christians. I have witnessed lots of different practices. A former colleague once wore his clerical collar every day of Lent. He said he got into a lot of conversations at places like the grocery store that he would not have otherwise. I know someone who gives up coffee every year, some who don’t eat meat one day a week and give that money to a food bank, some who add devotional time, and many who give up sweets or chocolate.
So what is up with this? Does it really bring you closer to God? Giving something up is supposed to help you think about all that God did and continues to do for you. So when you really want a coffee, but you gave it up, maybe you might use that time to say a prayer of thanks to God or to think about the cross. Or maybe you will put that money you are not spending on coffee toward a charity.
I also know a lot of people, and I may or not include myself in that group, who give up something like sweets or dessert in order to lose some weight or to get more healthy. They do it during Lent because Lent can provide a good excuse to start a better habit. It is about six weeks long and likely there are others doing it, too.
Now, it is good to remember that in most things we do, our motives are mixed. I might make my kids be polite because it is good to be polite, but also because I don’t want other people to think they are rude. I might give to a charity at the end of the year because I like and believe in that charity, but also because I am getting a tax break.
I would venture to guess that most everything we do is with motives that are mixed. We’re sinful people. But I also think this is what makes taking on a Lenten discipline beautiful.
One of the reasons Luther broke away from the Catholic church was because he did not want to be part of a religion that was all about shoulds and have to’s. You have to pray more, you should give more money to the poor, you have to fast. The truth is, we don’t have to do any of that to have a close relationship with God, because having a relationship with God has nothing to do with what we do, but rather everything to do with what God does. And because of this, we are free to do what gives us life.
I like to think of Lent as a kind of “spring cleaning of the soul.” Is there something that is cluttering your soul or your life? If someone were to look at how you spend your time, what would they think is most important to you?
This Lent, think about your life as a disciple. Is there anything getting in the way of you more fully enjoying your relationship with God? Commit to talking to God every day. Add some prayer to your day or find a good devotion book or read the gospel of John. Your life will be so much richer for spending time with God in prayer, praise and reflection.
Are you obsessed with coffee or candy or chips or alcohol or TV or texting? Then maybe you need to take a break from one of them for Lent. It is good to be free from thinking too much about food or whatever it is, because it can free you to think more about things that truly matter. And you might even lose a few pounds in the process.
This Lent, I hope you will join me in taking on a discipline. There is not one of us who could not stand to grow in our relationship with God. We all have mixed motives and that is ok. God will take us the way we are. Because what God really wants is for us to be free. Because when you are free and not obsessing, then you can more fully enter your life, enjoy your life, and enjoy being a disciple.
So sweep out your soul and blessings on your journey!