Monday, March 11, 2019

Lent is Not Self-Help

I'm spectacularly bad at giving things up for Lent.

Truthfully, I'm pretty bad at any sort of regular Lenten discipline at all, except going to Wednesday evening services, which is required because I am the pastor.  I keep thinking that it would be good if we got one of those cardboard banks for Lent and practiced giving a special offering for a particular cause, but I haven't gotten around to doing it.  One of these years...

But I digress.  Mostly, this is about my inability to give something up for Lent.  Partly this is a failure of imagination:  as Lent draws hear,  I think:  what would be a good thing for me to give up this year?  And most of the time, I can't come up with anything that I would consider interesting.  There was one year that I gave up buying books for Lent, which turned out to be excruciating, which means it was a good idea.  Right?

I also remember one Wednesday morning early when I was taking the garbage out to the curb.  It was a snowy, icy, cold morning in Minnesota, and suddenly I realized that it was Ash Wednesday (which I did actually know) and that I did not know what I was going to give up for Lent.  And I thought, what if I get rid of one thing a day for forty days?  That was a really good idea, theologically, I had to admit.  But logistically, it was not as easy as it sounded.  Bags of things accumulated before I got them to the thrift store.

Most of the time though, I don't manage giving something up for Lent.  It was not a part of my practice growing up.  I don't automatically think of it.  I don't think it's a bad idea, though.  I like the idea of finding some special way to mark the forty days before Easter.

I think that one of my problems is that when I think about what I should give up, it's usually something bad for me.  Like sugary treats, or potato chips, or soda (although I don't drink soda, so there's that.)  Then I start thinking of Lent as some sort of self-improvement project, a way to lose weight, or change a bad habit, at least temporarily.

Don't get me wrong:  I think changing bad habits is a good idea.  I think becoming healthier is a great idea.

I just don't think that's what Lent is for.

I think that Lent is more about failure than success.  Maybe the point about giving things up (if you do) is not to be so good at it.  Maybe the point is to come face to face with the grace of God, the grace that only failures need.  All of you who can make it on your own need not apply.

Lent is about getting ready for Easter, getting ready for not only Jesus' resurrection, but our own.  I am not sure what is the best way to get ready for that, except living and paying attention, and being honest.