Going to a church that doesn’t follow the church calendar, I tend to be out of the loop on these things. Unforunately, my dear non-liturgical Quakers tied it into the sermon last Sunday. I guess they felt we should consider it as part of our spiritual Easter preparations.
Blast, I thought.
Last year was the first year I gave anything up for Lent. It was extremely challenging, and I learned a lot about myself. I also read a lot and wrote a lot, for I had a lot of time on my hands. I look back on that time and recognize my sacrifice as a challenge that I overcame.
But there wasn’t really a spiritual aspect to it. I know I talked big and dramatic in my blog post year ago. But my life isn’t big and dramatic, and honestly, my life isn’t all that spiritual. It’s mostly mundane and quiet and normal. And so my accomplishment felt more like a personal one, instead of a spiritual one.
So after Sunday’s sermon, I decided to give the Lent thing another go. I knew what I should give up. The same thing as last year. Television and movies, those most vicious of time-suckers. I spend far too much time in front of a screen, consuming stories and characters and realities. I understand the danger and recognize the addiction.
Today, being the first day, was going well—until I got home after going to the gym and sat down in my quiet home. I ate dinner in silence, then set to doing the dishes. I usually watch a television show to make dishes a little less painful. The folks downstairs, bless ‘em, love their reality singing shows, and so I heard their bass pumping through my not-quite-thick-enough flooring. And I was annoyed and bored and needing something to cover up the bass.
I fully respect all of those who are giving things up for Lent. I really do. And next year, maybe I’ll try again. But on Ash Wednesday this year, I filled my apartment with the sounds of New Girl’s Valentine’s Day episode and the sound of water while I washed the dishes.
Because in that moment, I realized something. In order for sacrifice to work, you need to have a reason. Beyond that it’s Lent, beyond that it’s good, beyond that you feel like you must because Jesus died for you.
For it’s not about the deed, it’s about the heart. That’s where all of those Pharisee folks went wrong. That’s where I go wrong on a daily basis, thinking that if I only jump through a few hoops, Jesus will love me more and I’ll be good to go.
Here’s the thing. Jesus can’t love me any more than he already does, and I’m always and never quite good to go. Heaven is just a breath away, but at the same time, I work to bring it here and now. It’s the paradox of faith.
And so, this Lent, I’m going to work on my heart. I’m going to try to battle those addictions that keep me on the couch for eight straight hours watching Downton Abbey. I’m going to fight the tendency to cover up my pains and loneliness with watchable stories. And I’m going to seek out intentional community and other forms of expression.
Let me take a moment to tell you about my Monday.
Monday was a very strange day for me. It was emotional and challenging and wonderful. Two things happened that rocked my world.
First, Switchfoot became my liturgy. I was praying aloud in my car on my commute to work, which I do on occasion but haven’t done for a long while, and also was bawling my eyes out, which I also do on occasion but also haven’t done in a while. I prayed for those I loved with a fervor that I don’t usually express. I mourned the loss of the known and requested that the unknown be gracious to all of us.
As I prayed, the final few songs of Switchfoot’s latest album were playing, and the songs matched my prayers exactly.
As I grieved the loss of the past, I listened to “Souvenirs.” As I prayed for an uncommon life for those I love, “Rise Above It” echoed my words. As I pleaded for forgiveness for myself and my world, it was “Vice Verses” that joined in the plea. And as I was filled with loneliness and confusion, I was left with the knowledge that there is a place “Where I Belong”—and it’s not here.
Later in the day, I went to my first book club meeting. I’ve been hoping for an invite to this book club for years. It’s the premiere book club of the area, filled with professors, business owners, and church-goers – all folks I recognized but didn’t necessarily know. Wine and cheese and conversation started us off, before the group of women began discussing the book we had read the month before. Everyone spoke, conversation aided by our moderator, Polly, who has a way of asking people direct questions without making them feel nervous. It was a fascinating discussion and lovely group of women, who I am thrilled to get to know over good words and good wine.
See, this is what Lent is all about. Yes, it’s about sacrifice – I am not downplaying that aspect in the least. In everyday life, we are called to sacrifice to draw closer to Christ. But those who are giving up Facebook in order to understand what Christ’s sacrifice was like? Not likely to happen, bucko. We’ll never know. We can appreciate and thank and reflect and proclaim, but we’ll never know what it was like.
But I’m using Lent to find Jesus in ways that I may not normally. I’m going to try to cut out or lessen time-wasters in my life, so that I can add other things, things that hopefully will point me toward Christ—and Easter. I don’t want to focus on the lack, but rather the abundance that I have been given in the people I surround myself with, the books I read, the music that gives me life.
So, happy Ash Wednesday, everyone. Good luck, if you’re giving something up. Enjoy, if you’re adding. And prepare for Easter in whatever way you’re able.