If it hasn’t been clear in my previous posts I will just come right out and say it now…this whole Lent thing is new to me. Oh, I’ve known it existed, some sort of nebulous ‘thing’ that Catholics had to go through before Easter. It wasn’t part of my heritage though, and little more was said of it than that it involved giving up something. I wasn’t even sure why giving up something was necessary; the general idea I got was that if you were Catholic you had to inject a little misery into your life on a regular basis. (My apologies to any Catholic readers, I am slowly coming to a much more well-rounded view of what Catholicism really is!)
One year in college I decided to observe Lent by giving up sweets. Sadly, this had more to do with the fact that I was looking for a reason to diet than out of any real spiritual significance because I think I got exactly nothing out of the experience. That’s been my attitude towards Lent ever since, “Am I going to give up something this year?” Always thinking in terms of “Hmmm, what could I REALLY survive without for approximately 40 days? And just how many brownie points will I get from God for doing this?”
This year I began doing a little more reading, catching other views on Lent and learning a little bit more about what it truly is about. My first revelation was that it wasn’t just Catholics that observe it, there are other denominations (typically more liturgical ones, it seems) that observe it as well. I also learned that it isn’t always about giving something up, sometimes people choose to add something in, maybe a disciplined devotional time, maybe focused prayer time, maybe a regular act of service. Whether giving up or taking on, the focus is on spending the time in contemplation and reminder of Christ’s suffering, in joining him on the journey to the Cross. Suddenly a whole new beauty to the season has been added. It is a time of slowly dying to self culminating in the joyful celebration of new life in Christ.
I’ll admit, I’m not so good at this dying to self thing. This year I decided to give up something more than just the token chocolate or soda (both of which are not a temptation as long as I keep them out of the house). I went straight to the heart…my biggest time waster and the thing that most often draws me away from listening to God’s voice. This year I gave up message boards and Facebook. And it is hard because it is ALWAYS here, ALWAYS tempting me, especially since I do my work at the computer and temptation is merely a few clicks away. But in addition to giving up, I want to take on. I want to take on more time spent in the Word. I want to take on the task of memorizing more Scripture. I want to take on time spent listening to God.
The other night I realized just how significant this was when we got some news that really irritated me. My first thought was to dash to the computer and jump on a message board to complain about it. And technically I could have, Lent hadn’t even started yet. But as I sat down I glanced over at my Bible and suddenly the verses I’ve been trying to memorize flashed into my mind:
In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness;
turn your ear to me and save me.
Be my rock of refuge,
to which I can always go;
give the command to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
(Psalm 71: 1-3 NIV)
Instead of spending time complaining about the situation I sat and meditated on what those verses were saying to me and realized that they gave me a peace that I would never have gotten otherwise. And I wondered how often I miss the wisdom God has for me when I spend my time focused on the wisdom of others.
So here I am, my fingers just itching to open up Facebook. And I’m realizing in a very small way what it really means to die to self, to take up the cross in the faith that doing so will lead to an even more glorious resurrection.