Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lent is More

Well, hi, blog. Fancy meeting you here. Come here often?

Me neither.

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So it's officially Lent, and in my yearly (or most-yearly) struggle to find a relevant, Scriptural, and generally just good way to "do" Lent, I've been working on how to spend this season.

I grew up in a Protestant (Nazarene) church, wherein most Catholic traditions were mentioned or not, but rarely practiced. This was, I think, a leftover from the idea of being free of a more legalistic theology, but in my adult life a few factors have led me to give a more open curiosity (and occasional adoption) to them. For starters, I met some Catholics--my best friend among them. I still remember standing in a cathedral in Argentina 8 years ago and watching a stranger cry, bawl, sob--English fails me here--in prayer before a small collection of relics. In 21 years of living, it had never occurred to me that Catholics could be emotional. (This is no slight to Catholics, only to me: in those 21 years, I had not known--or had not knowingly known--a practicing, devout Catholic; only classmates who griped about CCD class and pretentious priests on TV shows.) When I find a new tradition to explore, I try to see it not only intellectually and through the lens of Scripture, but through the tears of that woman in La Plata.

My initial rejection of Lent, several years ago, was tied to that idea of joining in Christ's sufferings--that just as Christ gave up liberties and life, so we give up coffee and soap operas. My problem was two-fold: our sacrifices were so pathetically surface-level, even when uncompared to Christ's; and we should be living under the new covenant, under victory and redemption, with the specific note that we don't have to take on sufferings unless prescribed by God. But as I delved, I found the original and returning concept of removing something only in an effort to devote more time to God through prayer, service, etc.

My first practicing Lent was in 2008, when I gave up Facebook (again, let's not compare sacrifices...) with the idea of spending that time--at that point, perhaps an hour a day--in better pursuits, largely divine. We will officially stamp that a moderate success--I did stay off the site, but I miraculously found a dozen other ways to spend time poorly, and I remember having a vague feeling of emptiness and dissatisfaction when Easter freed me from my commitment. Since then I've made similar commitments some years, and skipped others; one year I thought of some "good" thing to do before realizing Ash Wednesday had passed, unnoticed, two weeks earlier.

So this year, I found myself trying to find the perfect thing: a sacrifice that didn't make a mockery, a goal that was true to Christ and not just a diet by another name. (My buddy Kate posted this article on Facebook a few days ago, which I found to be very close to my own thoughts on the subject. Self-improvement is fine, but let's call it what it is.)

But I caught myself getting too legalistic about it--the same sin, if you'll recall, that I'd once plastered Catholics with. So I tried to shake that off and consider things through my recent re-centering on constant gratitude (due in large part to Ann Voskamp's simple/elegant One Thousand Gifts, a birthday gift from my dear friend Julie). Had I been spending way too much time on Netflix, and not enough with God and His current calling on my life? Absolutely. Had I been meaning to cut back? Of course. Could I do it randomly, on any day? Sure, and I could accredit it to willpower and self-improvement. Or...

I could take this step of re-prioritizing how I spend my time now, in this season, in honor and in the name of the One who sacrificed more than I can fathom for anything but personal gain. Much like my earlier focus on Advent and not just Christmas Day, I could take this season and present it to my savior as something more than a badge of painless sacrifice. I could trust this betterment not to my own willpower but to His, and give thanks to Him for each successful day. I could spend that time instead of wasting it. I could let this Lent be a time to commune with a savior who spent far more than six weeks preparing for his own sacrifice, a time to invest in the ministry He has inexplicably given me, a time to foster community and deepen relationships--in short, a time to re-allign my life to my ideals. And come Easter morning, I will be able to look back in wonder, not at my own righteousness, but at His grace.

So here we go.

I did, in fact, start on this Lenten journey on schedule--early, in fact. Not "giving up TV," but but using my time better by refusing to spend it wastefully. In my efforts to guard against legalism, I'm building a four-hours-on-the-weekend clause into the plan. (As my friend Sarah and I shared the other day, we'll view this as grace, not cheating.) And I'll check in and let you know how things go.

Because if nothing else, fair reader, this should mean an end to the two-month blogging hiatuses.