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.

Here’s a sort of lengthy (but worth reading) excerpt from the book’s introduction:

“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…


  1. Roberta says:

    As usual, Julie, you are a breath of “fresh air” (the Spirit).
    In recent years I have chosen to add some things, rather than eliminate things, although I decided not to “comfort” myself with desserts during these six weeks. I will be participating in a group program at a local church, “Meeting Christ in Prayer”. While it meets only once a week for learning an sharing, participants are encouraged to engage in daily prayer practice and journaling.
    Lent-Springtime, time to turn-over the soil and plant for new growth!

  2. Just Julie says:

    I love your idea of adding things, Roberta…how beautiful. And your last sentence: spoken like a true gardener, and full of hope. Thank you for stopping by with your encouragement, Roberta…

  3. Helen in Switzerland says:

    Actually I think giving up an i-pad is just the right sort of thing to give up Julie – because you will miss it and it will also give you more time to do other things – like study your lent book. I’m not sure what I’m giving up this year. Maybe I won’t give up anything – but what I will do is try to spend more time every day in prayerful reflection.
    Happy pancake day by the way – a lovely English tradition for Shrove Tuesday! We ate ours at lunchtime, taking it in turns to make them – my son, who is 13 did way the best job!

  4. Just Julie says:

    Happy Pancake Day! Shrove Tuesday! So many things I’ve never heard of Helen…I would love more tradition in my life. Perhaps I’ll take an Alpine trip someday and you can teach me. 🙂

  5. Lloyd says:

    Good thoughts, Julie. I’m off to St. Paul’s for Shrove Tuesday this evening, a pancake blast before the lenten fast. I’m giving up pancakes. I’m working on year-around lent, giving up me. Matthew 16:24 holds the secret to all our heart longings. Blessings!

  6. Just Julie says:

    This is the second time in one day that Shrove Tuesday has been mentioned, and I’d never heard of it before, Lloyd! I think I need to give up pancakes AND myself too. Good advice….

  7. Ember says:

    I agree with Helen – giving up the i-pad sounds like the perfect Lenten discipline.
    I didn’t know Shrove Tuesday hadn’t made it across on the Mayflower!
    I’m so glad you wrote this post because until I read it I’d totally forgotten I said that for Lent I’d join Maria in her “buy nothing” (except food and toiletries) year.
    Thank you, friend!!

  8. Just Julie says:

    Thank you, Ember. I hope the funeral went well yesterday…. And may God bless your Lenten offering too….

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.