Lent 2013 began on Ash Wednesday, February 13. Each year, the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer invites its users “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” As Jesus puts it, we are to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him.
As Christians ponder what you will “deny yourself” this Lent, or what “cross” you will take up, don’t make it just another rehash of your already broken New Year’s resolutions. I would love to deny myself about 20-30 pounds – and might even consider it a “cross” to take up the diet and exercise program that would make that happen. Alas, such an exercise would be all about ME, and not about discipleship. Several other options ran through my mind, but all with the same conclusion … a good Lenten discipline really needs to be about Christian discipleship, not about self-improvement.
So, I then thought about putting my self-denial and cross-bearing in the context of the Baptismal promises, the Great Commandments and the Great Commission, and lo and behold, came up with some possibilities that might actually make this Lent holy:
- Deny myself the pleasure that comes from reading great novels, biographies, and histories … and take up the cross of reading an equally great spiritual and/or theological book
- Deny myself the uncommon comfort of a regular time of prayer and reflection … and take up the cross of going on a Lenten retreat
- Deny myself the “pleasure” of thinking about the splinter in someone else’s eye … and take up the cross of a rigorous self-examination
- Deny myself some grudge or grievance … and take up the cross of reconciliation
- Deny myself a few private hours during the season … and take up the cross of spending time with someone who is lonely or lost
- Deny myself the comfort of believing that a neighbor or social friend is free to stay home on Sunday morning if they want … and take up the cross of inviting that person to know Christ and his Church
I will also spend some days fasting, not so much to lose weight, but to make myself more aware of the millions in our world who hunger physically as well as spiritually. I will also send some money to Christian causes, but not because I am uncomfortable with my own tithe, but because there is so much need in the world and I have been blessed with so much that simply begs to be shared.
So what will it be for you this Lent? Will you give up chocolate, movies, or refined sugar? Or will you give up those things that really do keep you from answering the Lord’s call to discipleship? Open your hearts to God’s grace and truth that you may be filled with his holy and life-giving Spirit. Then make good choices about self-denial and cross-bearing in your Lenten discipline that you may follow the One who has called you to new life.