Today is the first day of Lent and, as a Christian, I’ve had more than one friend ask me what I’m “giving up.” Right now as I sit and type this I am eating beef jerky (and all the Catholics gasp!). So, no, meat isn’t one of the things I’m sacrificing during this period. Chocolate will not be forbidden either; nor will wine. I know. I know. Many of you are thinking, “Heathen!”
But please hear me out. As I told one friend today, to avoid meat consumption would not be a true sacrifice. I would honestly pick a nice fillet of fish over a filet mignon on any day. A good crab cake sooner wins my heart than does a porterhouse. So to stop eating meat for 40 days (or even on Fridays) would be a pretty safe cop out as a sign of Lenten temperance. (I must confess that the chocolate or the wine would be a bit harder!)
If you can agree with me that the traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for Easter, you may be able to follow my logic. Believers site Lent as a time characterized by prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial. Modern day observers tend to give up an action (eating meat, for example). Some replace that action with something this is considered able to bring them closer to God. And some go even further by giving the time or money spent on the abandoned vice to charitable purposes or organizations. But let’s go back to the premise: Lent is a time to prepare for Easter. It’s a time to get our figurative house in order so that we are ready to welcome the risen Christ and celebrate the jubilance of Easter.
And getting my house in order is exactly what I’m doing for Lent. Here’s how:
- I will stop criticizing the shutters when the foundation is being eaten by termites. So often, I pick little things about myself that I don’t like: my waist is too wide, there are new lines in my face, the gray hairs around my temples are too prominent. Instead of looking at the superficial aspects of who I am, I will spend the next several weeks reflecting on the foundation of myself. What makes me who I am? For what do I stand? Am I solid in my convictions or do I buckle under pressure?
- I will paint in a new color. Sometimes I get in a rut that allows me to be lazy. Sure, the old ways work. But do they push me to be my best? Do they allow me to consider other perspectives and foster my strengths? Sometimes a splash of color allows us to see a drab room (or life) in a whole new way.
- I will dig a spiritual garden. Some days I arrive thinking, “How did I get here?” I don’t remember the specific turns of the road or the landmarks along the way. It’s as if I’m on autopilot. When did I last schedule time for reflection? Do experiences just happen to me or am I engaged in defining the choices I make? When was the last time I acknowledged the dirt (and cleaned it up)? How can I plant a seed for personal growth?
- I will set a table. The true joy in life comes from sharing ourselves with others. Do others feel welcome at my table? Am I generous with my time and my talents? How do I nourish myself and those I love?
- I will remember that I don’t live alone. There are days when dog hair on the sofa and dishes in the sink make me wish I did live alone! But even if my four-legged house buddies and my husband all disappeared for the weekend, I’d still have the company of God. In times of stress and isolation, how can I better call upon my faith? Do I demonstrate gratitude for the blessings all around me? Is my faith evident to others through my intentions and actions?
You still may be saying, “Where’s the sacrifice in all of this?” or “I don’t see any self denial in this outline.” And you’re right. In fact, I would argue that we spend most of our lives denying ourselves the true opportunity to be the people we were born to be. We make excuses, we build walls, we get in routines. We forget that God gives us all a spirit bound only by the limitations we place on ourselves. Through those limitations, we sometimes miss out on loving ourselves, loving each other, and loving God in the most complete and meaningful ways. Avoiding the Burger King drive-thru would be a walk in the park compared to the challenges I’ve presented here. When Christ comes to me on Easter, I want to be able to look back and say, “I’ve been waiting for you. My house in in order, my table is set, and I am excited that you’re here.”