We are now at about the half way point in the Lenten season. There are 3 more weeks until Good Friday and I wanted to send out a little check in note. If you chose to add something or abstain from something how is it going? In the past I have found Lent decisions to be kind of like New Year’s resolutions. I’m enthusiastic about it for a couple weeks or so and then it becomes less intentional until I forget about it. 40 days can be long. And if I break a fast during Lent I can feel an extra layer of guilt because I let God down or just give up because “Now that I’ve broken my commitment I suppose there’s no use continuing for the rest of the time”. This is where I have to remind myself that it was never about me to begin with. It was never about what I did or didn’t do or if I did or didn’t do it perfectly. It is about Jesus and the grace offered to us on the cross and the freedom in his resurrection. Period.
I did something different for Lent this year…normally I wouldn’t talk about it but I think it may be helpful for some people out there. My personality tends towards perfectionism and I can very easily be caught in the trap of legalism and somehow thinking that I am “earning” my way. It is easier for me to live in a black and white world with rules that need to be followed and consequences if they are broken. It is much harder for me to accept and rest in the gray/grace filled world God offers. This year for Lent I gave up alcohol…but not completely. Most of the time I choose not to drink but I have allowed myself to pick one day during the week to have drinks with friends. Some people may not think I am actually observing a Lenten fast…I do…and honestly that’s all that matters. When I choose to abstain from alcohol I am absolutely reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice and my dependence on him. When I choose to have some drinks with friends (and if I’m honest I felt a little guilty about it at first – like I was doing something wrong) I am reminded of the gift of grace and that it is absolutely NOT about me. The word that best describes this season for me this year is Freedom and it has been such a blessing.
So, I can say this…wherever you are at…maybe you are diligently observing your Lenten commitments…Maybe you started strong and lost focus…Maybe you never made any commitments. It’s not about you and it is never too late to start. There is nothing magic about the full 40 days. It is about making an intentional effort to prepare your heart for Easter. You can start (or restart) now… It is ultimately about recognizing the price Jesus paid for your life and the freedom that brings.
It’s Wednesday again and time for another “Storm Survival” tip. This one can be tough to put into practice but I found it dramatically adjusted my perspective. I wrote down 5 things I was thankful for and looked at it every day…sometimes many times a day. In the midst of the chaos of emotions it can be difficult to shift your focus from everything that is going wrong to thankfulness. It takes a decision and an intentional effort. But at least for me it helped to keep me from sinking deep into a pity party and actually moving towards being overwhelmed by everything I do have. In the midst of all the hardships I have been blessed by A LOT this year and it is very humbling.
There is a reason why “thankfulness” is considered a discipline…you start out slow. Just like if you were just starting with running. You don’t go from couch potato to marathoner instantly. You build up over time and the first few weeks of training can feel like you are doing the most unnatural thing EVER. But the more your body adjusts to running the easier it becomes to go the distance and then even further. I found the same thing to be true with thankfulness.
The first few times I tried to transition my thoughts “Ugh, life is not fair. Why do I have to deal with this? Cancer and chemo and radiation!! I wasn’t supposed to have to face this at my age. Life just keeps getting worse! My marriage wasn’t supposed to face these hardships…EVER” to…
“Yes, life is unfair. But I am so thankful that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my family and friends love me. I am thankful for a job that has given me support and the space to heal and recover. I am thankful for a roof over my head and that I don’t have to worry about going bankrupt with medical bills. I am thankful for the hard truths that came out in my marriage because I would rather be dealing with the truth than a lie.” I could almost feel my brain physically rebelling in the exercise. It is not a natural state. Especially in our “me-centered” consumer focused culture where we are trained to be discontent unless we have _______ (health, family, job, relationship, iphone 5, etc)
I will add one caveat: it is OK to say that things are still HARD while you are practicing thankfulness. There is nothing magic about it. Everything that was difficult isn’t suddenly fabulous…it is probably still difficult. This is training yourself to focus on what you HAVE rather than what you don’t which will help you see the difficulties in a different perspective.
- Write your 5 things down and tape them somewhere (bathroom, front door, kitchen)
- Set an alarm on your phone with your 5 things
- Buy a bracelet or ring that will represent your intention towards thankfulness…every time you look at it let it remind you of what you do have
Inevitably there will be people out there who can’t think of 5. You don’t need to think of 5 (that was just a round number for me) but challenge yourself…sometimes being thankful requires changing the way you think about a particular circumstance.
- Gas prices are SO high it is too expensive to fill up my car > Be thankful you have a car
- Work is SO stressful > Be thankful you have a job in this economy
You get the idea. Here’s to a thankful Wednesday!
It starts this Wednesday.
I was raised Catholic so Lent was an annual obligation I was accustomed to. (If you are uncertain what it is click here) Every year 6 weeks before Easter Sunday we would talk about what we were going to give up for the next 40 days. One year I gave up my blanket. As a kid I never really understood why…it was just something we did. No meat on Fridays and choose something to abstain from. There was always a strategy to what I would choose. It should be significant but not too difficult that way the next month and a half would be bearable. And it couldn’t be something like spinach that I wouldn’t really miss. Many people give up alcohol or another vice…actually Carnival started as a way for people to get all their demons out of their system before they had to give everything up for Lent. Nice.
It took until my early 20′s to figure out the real beauty behind this fasting season. It is not an obligation but an opportunity. On Easter Sunday we are celebrating Jesus’ resurrection and God’s victory over sin. It is a joyful day. But you can’t have the celebration on Sunday without the pain and sacrifice of Friday. Friday is the day where we recognize that a blameless Jesus died an agonizing death on a cross for the sins of humanity. For me. For you. The ultimate sacrifice.
Living in a western culture I know that I don’t have to experience sacrifice very often. I live in a pretty comfortable, entitled environment. And it is easy for me to sing praise songs on Easter Sunday without really “getting it”. Not that we could ever possibly “get it” but the Lenten season gives you the chance to change your habits for a bit to have a daily reminder of the real reason we are celebrating on Easter. I believe you can either subtract something (make a sacrifice) or add something like a spiritual discipline…as long as you made an intentional choice you will notice.
I found 3 questions that I thought were great when trying to decide what you may want to do for this season:
1. Is there a habit or sin in my life that gets in the way of me loving God? How can I make a change to address this?
2. Why am I giving this up? How does it draw me closer to God?
3. How do I want to be different when I wake up on Easter?
Here are a few ideas:
- Giving up various food items: meat, sugar, coffee (caffeine if you don’t want to cheat with tea ), alcohol
- Taking a break from Facebook, TV, Computer
- Adding a discipline: reading the bible every, 10 minutes of silence, quiet time in the morning
- Taking a walk with God everyday
- Not turning the computer on immediately when you get home – taking 30 minutes to be “unplugged”
- Reading a chapter from the gospels every day
And if you decide on one…tell someone it will keep you more accountable.