Lent refers to the forty days before Easter beginning today, Ash Wednesday. Lent can be a time of self-examination and reflection. Growing up in a small Episcopal church, I was taught to "give up" something different each week. The children in the congregation chose what everyone in the church was to sacrifice, which most of the time was either ice cream or television. Sundays during Lent were regarded as "Little Easters" when one could indulge in the treat or pleasure "given up" for the week.
Denying oneself of a pleasure, like chocolate or computer time can offer space for a new discipline. However the question to consider is, "What will I do with the time I've created during Lent?"
Can I spend more time in prayer? Am I cultivating an increased awareness of God's presence? What am I doing when I would have eaten chocolate or played computer games or worked on an annoying habit? Ask yourself, "How will giving up _______ deepen my faith and trust in God?"
Instead of giving something up, another thought for Lent involves taking on something new. For example, last year I decided to volunteer in a local soup kitchen every week. Making a short-term commitment to serve in God's kingdom can be positive and manageable. I found my Thursday evenings spent at "Dinners on Us" a rewarding experience. I looked forward to visiting with those who came each week.
If you are considering "taking on" rather than "giving up" during Lent, here are a few ideas.
1. Choose a word on which to focus. The word may relate to a need in your life, a discipline you want to develop or a perspective you want to receive. For example, well-known author Debbie Macomber has written a book, "One Perfect Word" (2012), which describes her experiences choosing a different word of the year for many decades. "Light" was my word during 2013. I was amazed how God brought "light' to me in various ways through pictures, images, words and scripture. Reflecting on scripture references for "light" brought new meaning to these passages.
2. Take on a volunteer project in which you've always had an interest. I enjoyed my time at the soup kitchen so much, I continued to volunteer though June.
3. Complete an examen every day or once a week to consider the ways God is at work in your life.
Questions such as the following assist:
a. When did I feel close to God (today, this week)?
b. When did I feel God's absence?
c. When did I experience God at work within me?
d. What are my gifts? How can I use my gifts to serve others?
e. What place does silence have in my life?
f. Where do I find a sense of community?
g. Are there topics I need to address such as forgiveness, reconciliation, places of anger and awareness of gratitude? Is God a part of this process?
h. What are my greatest joys?
4. Find a piece of art to which you are attracted. Locate scripture related to the piece as a way to deepen your reflection. Ask God to enter the time you spend opening your heart and awareness to new perspectives and insights. For example, in 2013, I copied a picture of Michelangelo's Pieta. Focusing on different parts of the sculpture: Mary's hand placement, Jesus' posture, the draping of clothing Mary wore, the youthful depiction of Mary's face even though she was a much older woman at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, brought many inspiring thoughts.
5. Take a walk. Open your heart to receive what God brings as you step a holy path.
6. Each morning breathe in the fruits of the spirit. (Galations 5:22-23)
Lent can be a somber time when there is self-examination and invitation for change. However, remember each Sunday is a "little Easter" when celebration can occur for new experiences with God and God's people. Before you decide what to "give up" or "take on," ask God for clarity and understanding to respond generously to the guidance God will offer.
Prayer: God, we come with humbleness, to walk a path you've designed for us during these forty days. Sink us deeply into you, reach our hearts in new ways so we can walk beside you along the path to the cross in a few weeks. Amen.