Lenten Opportunities

Spin Cycle

My mom would quip how she didn’t know if she was coming or going from time to time. Her acknowledgment usually came during busy times when I wanted to start a new activity or had something I needed her to do.

My mom and dad were 43 when I came into the picture. They had already raised my two sisters and, I’m sure, at 55, would rather be winding down rather than trying to keep up with a 12-year-old. What I believe she was attempting to communicate was how busy she was with competing goals and priorities. At 12-years-old I didn’t know how life gets busy and sometimes we just want to stop.

The earth spins at about 1000 miles per hour (at the equator). We may not know it, but we are constantly spinning, spinning, spinning. I’ve heard people say, “Stop the world, I want to get off” not because of the earth’s constant spin, but because life can spin out of control.

The earth’s constant motion isn’t what gets to us, it’s all the motion in our lives. Regardless of our desire to “stop the world”, it won’t happen. The earth will keep spinning (which is a very good thing) and so do our lives. Even those times when we believe our life will slow down, it doesn’t. Sometimes our lives spin even faster.

Lent As An Opportunity

We are already busy, so what does it mean to add something like Lent into the mix?

Instead of viewing Lent as “one more thing”, what if we see Lent as an opportunity to “stop the world”? Well, not exactly “stop the world” but at least slow it down somewhat. The world will keep spinning, but our lives don’t need to. Lent can be an opportunity when we choose to slow down our spinning lives.

The WHAT of Lent

Historically, Lent has been a time of intentional prayer and self-denial. Over forty days we are reminded of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness (see Luke 4). During that time, Jesus fasted, prayed, and combated the devil. The focus on self-denial and prayer helps us connect with Jesus’ time in the wilderness as he prepared for God’s mission.

Our forty days of Lent (which doesn’t include Sundays) started on Feb. 26th with Ash Wednesday and lasts until the Saturday before Easter. What you choose to do during these forty days can have a profound effect on your life and soul. Lent can empower us and prepare us for God’s purpose.

The HOW of Lent

Knowing the history and purpose of Lent can be helpful, but the power of Lent comes via intentional practices. Practices that draw us closer to Jesus, help us to love others, and have the potential to transform our lives empower us to follow Jesus. During the days of Lent, we find newness of life.

The power of Lent comes from our choice to enter into practices that create space for God. The faster our life spins, the easier it is to neglect God. Time for prayer, scripture, and other spiritual practices becomes limited and, at times, completely bypassed, forfeited for other pressing activities. When we decide to find time to draw near to God, we discover how he draws near to us.

The WHY of Lent

Why should we embrace our Lenten opportunity? Because we need Lent. We need to be reminded that life doesn’t consist of our lives spinning out of control. We need time to sit with Jesus in the desert of our soul. We need practices of self-denial and prayer. We need to be reminded that through Jesus’ self-denial and death, we have life abundantly. Lent also prepares us for the celebration of Resurrection.

Invitation to a Holy Lent

The word “holy” means to be set apart. In order to have a Holy Lent, we set it apart. If we want to experience the power of Lent, it must look different than our ordinary days.

How can we set Lent apart? Here are some ideas:

“Giving up” something for Lent is a popular Lenten practice. Whether a favorite treat, time watching TV, or some other item or activity, when we say “no” to ourselves we enter into self-denial.

Fasting a meal or a day (or longer) connects us to Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness.

Setting a fixed time for prayer and reading Scripture can be a time of renewal.

Adding a spiritual practice such as prayer, scripture, spending time in nature, serving somewhere, attending Sunday Worship services, or attending Lenten Reflections, helps connect us to self-denial and renewal.

Yes, our lives may be busy, perhaps overflowing. In order to add Lenten practices, we may have to say “no” in order to say “yes.” What can you say no to? Can you say no to a favorite TV program? A destructive activity? A favorite vice? A favorite food? Eating three (or two) meals a day? The reality is, if we are going to say “yes” to a Lenten practice, we may have to say “no” to an ordinary activity. If we are going to “stop the world” we must say “no” so we can say “yes.” Doing so sets Lent apart, helping us experience a holy Lent.

A Prayer

As you reflect on what God desires for you during this season, I offer two prayers. The first is Charles de Foucauld’s prayer of abandonment. The second prayer for you to offer Jesus during Lent.

Here is Charles de Foucauld’s prayer of abandonment:

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my father.

Jesus, please help me to walk with you in self-denial. You denied yourself by going to the cross and dying so that I might live. Help me to say no to myself, so others can live. May this season of Lent be a Holy season set apart for you and your purposes. Guide me during these forty days. May I be transformed through you. Peace, David.

Lenten Preparations

Today is Ash Wednesday and I find myself wondering what to do. Over the past few years I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the whole “giving things up” mentality of Lent. I have this ongoing conversation with my wife and she says giving things up has to do with identifying with Jesus and his sacrifice. Yet I find giving up chocolate, caffeine, or whatever else I might choose pales in comparison and truthfully, isn’t that much of a sacrifice. I also find that ‘giving up stuff’ can even feed my pride. I find myself fighting the temptation to say, “Hey, I’m giving up this for Lent and I really like this and it is really hard to give it up.” When I’m able to give things up…I feel like I’m somehow a success.

So, now I’m struggling to figure out what exactly to do. If Lent is a time to reflect on my life, my mortality and whether I’m ready to “meet my maker” I’m not sure that giving up chocolate is a very effective way to do it.

While there has been a strong tradition in the church toward fasting during Lent (perhaps the reason we tend to give up stuff like sweets is because that is much easier that the fasts of meat and meals of the past), there is also a tradition of refocusing on prayer and scripture, and reorienting our lives. I find that I don’t always see the connection between giving up items such as sweets and a reorientation of my life.

So now I’m focusing on two things: One, finding activities that I can add to my life during Lent that will make me more aware of God and two, giving up activities that distract me from my relationship with God. My hope is that this two-pronged approach will better enable me to reorient my life around Jesus and God’s kingdom.

The point of Lent, for me anyway, is that I will be more open and receptive to God. Lent is a journey toward Easter; a journey of moving away from self and toward God. It involves reflection and repentance which can lead to renewal (Easter). My prayer is that what I practice during Lent brings me to a place of resurrection on Easter.

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