Lent

Lent is coming.  February 17.  A time for being intentional about clearing away some of the obstacles between ourselves and God.  There is a standard practice of giving up something – chocolate, alcohol – for the forty days (minus Sundays) before Easter.  I’m not sure what that does for one’s closeness to God; I suppose the “giving up” can be a way of humbling oneself.  I wrestle with it (maybe because I am so resistant to humility!).  Anyway, I’ve never found “giving up” to be all that humbling – it mostly just proves to me that I can do it, and that is pride.

A friend of mine is giving up watching the news on television.  Now that strikes me as a good Lenten discipline, because her intention is to re-balance what she is putting into her mind.  She wants to see if she will be less anxious and preoccupied with negative thoughts, give God a chance to have more access.

I guess one way to approach the problem is to consider what areas of your life contain obstacles – various innocuous-seeming addictions, like daytime TV or exercise or sleazy romance novels, or, yes, even chocolate.  Or there may be areas where there is a lack – good reading, exercise, raw vegetables – that need to be added.

These are my meanderings.  I’d like to hear yours.  Lent is fast approaching, and I haven’t yet settled on a way to observe it productively.

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13 Responses to Lent

  1. jeank knapp says:

    Hi, Susan. For me, the things that I give up in Lent are little reminders during the day to pray more, remember God more, be kinder, help others, etc. The things themselves are meaningless, I think–it’s their absence that can act as wake-up calls to be more the person in Christ that I want to be. A food thing can be most helpful, because that comes up a lot during the day–the desire for whatever I’ve given up. Then I remember that my desire for God is much more important to me than my desire for the food. Some people give up certain activities–perhaps to provide larger spaces for prayer, scripture reading, etc. I start out Lent with a question: how would I like to see my relationship with Christ grow? Out of that comes my particular discipline for the season. (By the way, it was nice to see you recently; sorry we didn’t have time to talk.)

  2. Jim says:

    The tradition tells us to fast and pray. Prayer is enhanced by fasting. Remember the words of our Lord Jesus when the disciples couldn’t exorcise the demons… Sometimes it takes both. Fasting in food, pleasure or any other thing does quiet us enough to look for God. We can easily think that we provide, when we should be knowing that He is providing. If He provides in the little things, He also provides in the larger. Sometimes quieting down, as in Lent, we are able to see the bigger picture. Lent is a time for insights. Thanks for your blog. It starts us in that direction, toward God.

  3. Susan says:

    Hm, two fasters (or givers-up). My contrary nature argues with both. I just want Jesus, and for Him to show me those places He needs to touch. It hurts, but I know He is doing it and therefore it will bring healing. And it does. If I go off half-cocked and design some “discipline” for myself, it usually backfires and takes me away from Him, because it is focusing on myself. It seems to me that just living life and meeting the suffering it brings, with His leading, is enough; and besides, I don’t want to associate closeness to Him with some artificially-imposed pain.

    I am always trying to find a way of “doing Lent” that is about Him, not me, that trains me to see more of Him – who He is, what He has done, what He does and will do. If I can get even a glimpse of Him, the humility follows as night the day.

  4. Kim says:

    The other night on the radio (on my drive home), I listened to a preacher who talked about a spiritual discipline he found and recommends, which is to commit oneself for, 40 days, to choosing “feeding” on the Word, the Bible, each day before taking in any nourishment to the body in the way of food. He said that doing so helps one to begin to grasp that in just the same way we begin to function poorly without physical food, we will do so without spiritual food. This occurs when we’ve awakened late and had to skip the Bible, and therefore skip food too, if we’re committed to this discipline. He said that it will help develop a commitment to reading the Word and a love for it, because one will be spiritually fed and become dependent on that nourishment regularly. It stems from “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4.

    I’m pondering whether this would be a good Lenten thing to do. It isn’t “giving up” anything, per se, but, rather, prioritizing and making feasting on the Bread of Life more important than our daily bread. Could I do it? I would have to change several ingrained habits to do so.

  5. Susan says:

    I like that! Not easy though – I felt myself tensing up to reject it. Like you, it would mean changing some habits, like putting “my” food first. It’s about postponing what my body wants and needs in favor of listening to God. That makes a lot of sense to me.

  6. Fr. Lazarus says:

    Susan,

    I find that “giving up” stuff during Lent is more about digging deeper. The meaning of “giving up” stuff lies underneath not on the surface. It is not surprising, therefore, that our spiritual language can sometimes get in the way of communicating what it was designed to communicate and make transformation a real possibility.

    Anyway, what I find underneath the surface language and behavior of “giving up” something is twofold.

    First, it is more about not holding on to things material or spiritual so tight. “Giving up” the thing yields that uncomfortable — humbling — realization. I then have to make a decision. Do I embrace the truth or do I turn away from it? Potentially transformative…

    Second, I was taught, since I was knee-high to a grasshopper that “giving up” something was just that — giving it “upward”. I do not lay it “down”. Rather, I am giving it “up”. Offering it to God versus an exercise in spiritual athletics — yielded versus self-centered.

    Just some quick thoughts.

  7. Many good ideas here, Susan. Lent is a time of fasting and praying, just as Jim said and the Church says. I find obedience to the Church takes the “me” out of the growth with Christ equation. Simple, humbling, true. So I give up and I take on. Usually giving up meats and sweets is enough to cause me to stretch, stumble, and rise again, holding onto Him, and in the end becoming more spiritually disciplined, more able to discern Him, and His will for me. But don’t forget to take on, and that usually means keeping my daily prayer life on track and to add a memory project – from the Psalms, the Collects, etc. Visiting shut-ins. Reading something recommended by my priest who represents the discipline of the Church, so my own will doesn’t get in the way.

    This year I hope to add the first part of John, In the beginning was the Word… to my memory collection (Psalm 139, Lenten Collect, Te Deum, Jubilate Deo, Venite) from previous years. Anyone want to join me in learning John 1:1-14? Nothing better than having Scripture engrafted on your heart…

  8. Susan says:

    Many good ideas, indeed! It’s fascinating to hear how each of you approaches this phenomenon of “Lent.” I like very much, Christine, that you describe it in a way that “takes the me out of the . . . equation,” and that in the end, you find yourself more able to discern Him and His will for you.

    Fr. Lazarus, similarly you point out the deeper meanings under the surface of “giving up,” especially loosening our grip on certain things. Potentially transformative, indeed.

    Thank you all. Much to chew on, here, and only another week to do it!

  9. Peggy says:

    Oh dear, I’ve left it until the last minute! I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s perspectives and I chuckle at your rebellion, Susan.

    Abstaining from my chosen item(s) helps my perspective. It reminds me throughout the day that I am making a very small personal sacrifice, and that reminds me of the sacrifice Christ made for me.

    For behaviors, it’s more like being aware than “giving it up.” Let’s say I’ve decided to be aware of the impatience I feel while driving (the names I silently call other drivers goes along with this). The minute I get in the car and feel impatient and start to rename everyone on the road, I remember that I am being aware of that during Lent. And then (this is where the whole Catholic-guilt-thing comes in handy) I remind myself that if Christ could live and die for me, surely I can avoid this impatience during Lent. (Bit pathetic, really, having to remind myself that it’s only temporary.)

    For food or drink items I give up, it’s the same except that I usually remember I’m abstaining before eating or drinking it. And every time it comes up, I am reminded that this is just a symbol—it’s a small thing I’m doing to try and wrap my brain around the unfolding of the mysteries of the Passion. This is where the adding something extra comes in. Extra prayers bring me closer to God, and extra alms help others in a small way. Though these are small things, they remind me that my sacrifices are insignificant next to what Christ did for me.

    More than any other time, Lent reminds me that it’s not about me. From the moment I receive the ashes and am reminded that I am dust and to dust I shall return until the joy of Easter Sunday, it’s not about me. The thing I need to do is get myself in the place I need to be to truly appreciate the season and the holy days. The alterations to my lifestyle help me do that.

  10. Susan says:

    Peggy, thank you for this! I love your last paragraph, because it tells me what the whole Lenten “thing” is truly about.

    I think I’ve decided on a course for myself. It includes participating in the “40 Days for Life” vigils once a week, using the “Examen with Gratitude” given me years ago by a much-admired priest, abstaining from meat on Fridays, and – maybe – Christine, joining you in the memorization. Just not sure yet whether I’ll do the passage you have chosen, or another. And, since my husband is giving up TV news, I will probably participate in that as well.

    Meanwhile, I am wallowing delightedly in C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, in which his marvelous imagination is set to work plumbing the depths of many of my “impossible questions” – like “what kind of body is a resurrected body?” And “what would an unbent world be like?” Is it wrong to thus feed myself joy during Lent? I think maybe it will help me keep from being completely submerged in its mire.

  11. Jim says:

    With Lent beginning tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, I am looking at the service, the Imposition of Ashes and Mass, for tomorrow and see a deep and strong current of prayer for us as we enter the season. I felt as though I was at my own funeral reading the words of the service.

    It is stark and moving to remember, O man, that dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return! Is it all vanity as the writer of Proverbs says? We live and we die, but in living or dying we are the Lord’s! Paul is right. How we live is important, most important. Lent can be the beginning of new life as we enter in to it prayerfully.

    As we give up the call of the world and listen to the call of God, we are blessed. I am mending my commitment of Lent to add daily scripture reading to replace my not watching the TV, most especially for the daily news that brings me down each day.

    My heart is sad for the world, especially those who are lonely, lost, in mental darkness, in prison and especially for those who have not known the Love of Christ.

    We can give up and receive. It is doing both that Lent will be valuable a time for us. God bless your 40 Days! Speaking of 40 days, I will be praying IFO Planned Parenthood in Napa every Monday evening with friends to let our voices be heard in Heaven for the loss of life that the abortion industry and our government have encouraged. This is another possibility for a Lenten discipline. We have lost and grieve the loss of millions of babies in this senseless act. Pray for babies and mothers and dad this Lent!

  12. Judy says:

    I guess we all agree that it’s a matter of giving something up in order to make more room for Him. Praise the Lord!

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