I always used to give up something for Lent. Some favorite type of food, usually, though one year, when I was managing a record store outside of Chicago, I gave up acquiring CD’s. Every day, almost, I either purchased a CD or received a free promotional CD from a label. I had hundreds and hundreds of CD’s, more than I could listen to in two years if I listened to a different CD every day.
So I said, for Lent, I won’t acquire any more, by any means. The rest of the staff of the store started a pool to see when I would crack, but I made it. From Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, I didn’t acquire any CD’s at all (or any other type of recorded music, for that matter). I did it. I fulfilled (is that the correct word?) my Lenten CD fast.
And I remember two things about that Lent. One, I was miserable. The sheer stress of trying to fulfill my vow was overwhelming, and any sense of spiritual growth, of spiritual benefit I might have obtained was lost in the struggle and stress. And two, on Easter Monday, I went on a huge shopping spree. You see, even though I didn’t acquire anything, that didn’t stop me from setting aside all kinds of CD’s, so that, when my fast was over, I gorged myself on music.
Lenten food fasts were no better. Lent was misery, as I ached for the food I was fasting from, and after Easter I went crazy with the food I had given up.
The whole point of a Lenten fast was lost on me, to the point that I gave up doing such things. I’m sure if my Roman Catholic mom was still with me back then, she would have been disappointed in me, because Catholics always gave up something for Lent. Just because that’s what you did, regardless of any benefit, spiritual or otherwise, you might gain.
Lent became, for me anyway, not a season of growth, not a season of reflection, not a season or repentance, not a season of renewal, but a season of misery. Counting the days until the fast was over. Lost in the inescapable thoughts of what I was missing, I ended up missing the true gift of Lent.
March 2018 is entirely Lent this year. The whole month. Lent began in February, and Easter is April 1st. Which means we have this whole month, not to be miserable, but to grow in faith. We have this whole month to reflect on how we live out our lives of faith, to reflect on how we are doing as we continue on the journey of faith. We have this whole month to ponder the ways in which we might have turned away from the Lord, and to find ways in which we might repent and return to the Lord. We have this whole month to embrace the gifts of God – grace, mercy, forgiveness, love – and find ourselves renewed in body, mind, and spirit as God enfolds us in healing love, embraces us with healing grace, and envelopes us in healing mercy.
We have this whole month to draw closer to God, to walk more confidently with God, to grow in love towards God and neighbor.
Lent is not about what we give up, but about what we receive. It is not about doing without, it is about seeing how much we are blessed with. It is not about misery, but about blessing.
Lent is about hearing God call to us every day to walk with God, journey with God, live with God. Lent is about hearing God call to us to return to the Lord, to return to the Way, to return to the Light, to return to the Love. Lent is about hearing God say to us again and again, you are my beloved child, and you are infinitely loved and infinitely special and infinitely beautiful and infinitely blessed.
This Lent, if we going to fast, if we are going to give something up, let us fast from those things that turn us away from God. Let us fast from those things that turn us away from our neighbor. Let us fast from those things that cause us to hate, or hurt, or harm. Let us give up the ways of rejection and refusal and regret and instead embrace the ways of welcome and acceptance and joy. Let us give up darkness and embrace light. Let us fast from selfishness and be filled with selflessness.
Lent is such a blessed and holy time. I pray God will bless us with such grace that we may be free to focus on those things that allow us to return to the Lord. I pray that God will bring us all back to the path of faith, to the journey towards the One who first came to us, the One who goes to the cross for us, the One who is raised and lives forever for us.
A blessed March, a blessed Lent to you all. See you in church!
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