This Joyful Season
February 21, 2012 | My Jottings
Growing up in a Baptist church, I never heard much about Lent. What little I did hear was from my Catholic friends, and from them I learned that giving up chocolate was what God wanted of people during the Lenten season. I didn’t get it, didn’t think it applied to me because I wasn’t Catholic, and hardly gave it another thought until I reached middle age.
Now, I’m not a Baptist, not a Catholic, and am not sure how I would describe myself regarding denominations at all. I say I am a Christian. That seems safer than to say I am a follower of Christ, because when I’m completely honest with myself, do I truly follow Christ? Sometimes I don’t think I do at all.
But I want to. No matter how selfish or complacent I can sometimes be, regardless of how discouraged I get that I’m not behaving and speaking and loving in the ways my Savior would call me to, there’s always a part of my heart that’s turned toward Him. He is never far from my thoughts. I am continually aware that He is with me, beckoning me closer, further in, down lower…and I long to go where He leads. Until my selfishness and laziness rear their heads again and I make the choice to do what’s easier for me, not necessarily what’s best for His kingdom.
I observed Lent last year and gave up reading books during that time. I may not have a full grasp of what it is to observe Lent, not having been raised in that kind of denominational tradition, but the desire to take part is strong in me. I want to offer the Lord something that is costly to me, something that isn’t easy. This Lenten season I’m putting away my iPad.
I love my iPad. It’s light and portable and fits inside my purse. I take it with me when I’m in various waiting rooms for the many appointments our Foster residents require. I play Words With Friends on my iPad, mostly at night before I go to bed. I also like a couple other word games, and Sudoku. And a very occasional game of Angry Birds. I like being able to check my email in the car while waiting for prescriptions at the drive-up window at Walgreens. I like reading the news, checking the weather forecast, and reading books on my iPad. I love checking in on my favorite blogs. Sometimes, however, I have found that I spend too much time on my little computer. I don’t know if I just love word games or if it’s a form of escape from the challenges of life, or if this little technological wonder deeply touches my inner nerd.
Whatever the reasons are that I spend at least an hour a day with my iPad, I’ve decided to devote that time to something else. It might be prayer, it might be sleep, it might be memorization, it might be walking on the treadmill, it might be knitting, it might be none of those. I don’t know yet. I just know that beginning tomorrow, my iPad will be stowed in a drawer for a long while.
I also bought a book of daily Lenten readings called Bread and Wine — Readings for Lent and Easter, recommended by one of my favorite bloggers. I look forward to starting each morning with this, helping me to set my mind’s course for the day.
“Dorothy Sayers writes that to make the Easter story into something that neither startles, shocks, terrifies, nor excites is ‘to crucify the Son of God afresh.’ Certainly that would have been unthinkable for Jesus’ first followers, who experienced it firsthand: the heady excitement of his entry into Jerusalem, the traitorous cunning of Judas and the guilty recognition of their own cowardice, the terror of His slow suffocation, and finally the disarming wonder of an empty grave and a living body resurrected from the dead.
As for us, His latter-day disciples, few would deny the magnitude or drama of these events. But how many of us embrace their pain and promise? How many of us, even at Easter, give Christ’s death and resurrection any more attention than the weather?
To observe Lent is to strike at the root of such complacency. Lent (literally “springtime”) is a time of preparation, a time to return to the desert where Jesus spent forty trying days readying for His ministry. He allowed Himself to be tested, and if we are serious about following Him, we will do the same….
…put another way, Lent is the season in which we ought to be surprised by joy. Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart’s deepest longing: unity with Christ. In Him — in His suffering and death, His resurrection and triumph — we find our truest joy.
Such joy is costly, however. It arises from the horror of our sin, which crucified Christ. This is why Meister Eckhart points out that those who have the hardest time with Lent are ‘the good people.’ Most of us are willing to give up a thing or two; we may also admit our need for renewal. But to die with Christ?
Spiritual masters often refer to a kind of ‘dread,’ the nagging sense that we have missed something important and have been somehow untrue — to ourselves, to others, to God. Lent is a good time to confront the source of that feeling. It is a time to let go of excuses for failings and shortcomings, a time to stop hanging on to whatever shreds of goodness we perceive in ourselves; a time to ask God to show us what we really look like….
…and yet our need for repentance cannot erase the good news that Christ overcame all sin. His resurrection frees us from ourselves. His empty tomb turns our attention away from all that is wrong with us and with the world, and spurs us on to experience the abundant life He promises.
‘Christ must increase, and I must decrease,’ the apostle John declares, and his words resonate through the readings collected in this book. The men and women who wrote them faced the same challenge we do: to discover Christ — the scarred God, the weak and wretched God, the crucified, dying God of blood and despair — amid the alluring gods of our feel-good age. He reveals the appalling strangeness of divine mercy, and the Love from which it springs. Such Love could not stay imprisoned in a cold tomb. Nor need we, if we truly surrender our lives to it.”
I know it might sound a little pathetic, giving up an iPad for Lent. But I want to make an effort to prepare my heart for this joyful season, and sometimes it’s “the little foxes that spoil the vineyards.” (Song of Songs 2:15).
How about you? Do you observe Lent in any way? Do you give up something for Lent? What has Lent meant to you in the past, and what does it mean to you today? Here’s a good (short) article about why we might consider observing Lent.
May you be blessed in this joyful season as well…