“For things done and left undone” is part of the confession we make each week as we approach the altar. It is also part of the confession we make annually on Ash Wednesday. For Christians, Ash Wednesday and the Lenten journey is a time for making our “New Year’s resolutions” not because a new year is beginning but because it is that annual time at which we turn again and put our trust in the Lord.
Lenten discipline, though, is not about heaping things upon ourselves that we can never, or will never be able to accomplish, rather it is about refocusing our lives in the right direction. Lent is about turning the eyes of our hearts and minds, once again, to Christ, who opens the way for us when the way may seem dark or impossible.
Lenten discipline is not about depriving ourselves of good things, but about opening ourselves to the goodness of God. It is about looking around our “spiritual room” and surveying the furniture of this room. This may mean that from time to time we will have to empty our lives of things that clutter up the space. At other times it might mean a rearranging of the furniture of our lives. Or, it may mean even adding some furniture that will make our journey with Christ more meaningful.
Here are three examples.
Most of us in traditions who keep the season Lent (not to mention those who see it caricatured in the entertainment media) have often considered Lent a time of self-denial. And so it may be. Giving up something that draws us or distracts us from God might certainly be a good discipline. Thus, if we escape into food, alcohol, caffeine, television, computer-land, or other distractions to distract us from the reality of our lives, then taking a break (or a fast) from such a thing might help us to bring our concerns and troubles more prayerfully to God, rather than hiding from them through various distraction techniques. Giving up something, or getting rid of some of our “excess furniture”, can be a way of exploring what it feels like to be rid of something that we use as a crutch and replace that crutch with a trust in God. Giving up something should not be done to punish ourselves but rather to open a path to our spiritual healing and growth.
Another example might be to make a change in a routine, in the arrangement of our space -- to “move around the furniture.” If our prayer life is stale, we may change the time we pray (say, from evening to morning). If we find ourselves physically, mentally, or emotionally exhausted, what if we change our exercise pattern, resting pattern, or eating pattern? The regularization of an erratic schedule or the intentional adherence to an existing healthy schedule may not mean adding or subtracting things from one’s day, it might just mean paying more attention to how one goes through the day. Mindfulness of the placement of the furniture of our lives and reflection on how we might make better use of what we have will be a part of many people’s Lenten journey.
Finally, sometimes we will need to add some furniture to the room. This is why most churches have Lenten educational programs and services. The opportunity to intentionally engage the questions of our faith, to grow, learn and enter into a more regular pattern of worship are an important part of the Lenten pilgrimage of faith. It may also be time to take up some individual prayer and study (for example, to work one’s way through a particular book of the Bible; to focus on regular recitation of the Daily Office). It can also be a time of almsgiving, whether that be seen as prayerful charitable giving or the prayerful giving of time and talent to a particular cause. In any event, sometimes we will need to add a piece of furniture to aid us in our spiritual growth.
Will we engage in all three of these areas during any particular Lenten season? Probably not, but examine the furniture of your spiritual room this year and as you embark on a Holy Lent, consider whether you need to houseclean, rearrange, or pick out some new furniture.
c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves