Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, which is a time when many faithful Christians begin the process of their Lenten Discipline, or what is often referred to as “giving up something for Lent.”
This year, though, I suspect I am not alone in my reaction to the thought of “giving up” something after a year of giving up a whole lot of things. I remember when we would discuss this as a family when my stepchildren were young and Steve would suggest that they give up “cigarettes and watermelon,” knowing full well as middle schoolers they weren’t smoking and finding a watermelon in North Dakota in March was next to impossible.
This year, it feels the same — maybe I should give up going to restaurants, or travel, or hugging people, or makeup — not that I wear much generally, but when you are wearing a mask why wear any? We’ve given up so much of what made our life normal that the idea of an added thing, especially when we are limited in our human connection, might seem like the last straw, as we cry out with the Psalmist “How long O Lord.” One more restriction in a pandemic may feel like a bridge too far.
That is why this year, I am going to choose to view my Lenten Discipline not as a chance to “give something up” but instead as an opportunity to “take something up.” I want to use it as a chance to deliberately and intentionally pick up something that will improve the depth of my faith life and enhance my relationship with God or my fellow disciples.
Over the years, I have “taken up” many things for Lent that have become transformative in my spiritual life. One year, I made the decision to “never speak until I had spoken to God” and another the decision to “never eat until I have feasted on the Word.” To this day, those are mantras of my faith life that order my days, beginning it with prayer and devotion centered on the Word.
One of the Lenten Disciplines of “taking something up” that provided me with the greatest joy that was shared with others was “taking up the pen.” I made a list of 40 people who had impacted my life in one way or another, and every day of Lent I wrote a thank-you note to someone, sharing with them how they had made my life richer or fuller, and I thanked them. Not surprisingly, God used these letters to arrive at “just the right time” for many of the recipients, who needed that word of affirmation. I was also on the receiving end of some letters like this over the years, often read with tear filled eyes of gratitude.
Other disciplines could include beginning a prayer or gratitude journal, centering on a new devotional, beginning the practice of a certain amount of prayer time on your knees to help with focus (I’m considering this one), setting aside an amount of time each week to serve or give of your time, or to try tithing, or deliberately giving 10 percent of your income back to God through the church or faith-based charities, for the 40 days of Lent. Perhaps you might commit to memorizing a Bible verse each week, repeating it daily, or the words to a hymn.
There are many things we can take up that will not only enhance our life but the lives of others during the pandemic — maybe a phone call to someone you know is alone during the pandemic, or sending them a note or a letter of encouragement. Perhaps if you like to bake, making cookies and dropping them off at the home of someone you think could use a day brightener. This past Saturday, I made banana bread and dropped it off for our food pantry volunteers Sunday, which was a win/win — I got to bake but I didn’t go into diabetic shock. By making it deliberate and intentional, we can build up others even as we focus on being good disciples.
Another idea is to push ourselves and learn. Perhaps go outside your comfort zone and learn more about an area of life and faith with which you are unfamiliar. One idea I am kicking around is diving deeper into anti-racism literature. I have read a lot, but I am thinking that tying my Lenten Discipline to Black History Month might help me finish a couple of books that have been on my “I’m really meaning to read that” list.
If these ideas spark an interest in you and you want to have more information or suggestions on how to implement them (for example, a good devotional or daity prayer ritual, or some anti-racism literature, or direction in deepening your prayer life), please feel free to reach out to me for support.
Because I am writing this on Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, the day before Lent begins, I have not finalized my decision. I will do that this evening after making potato pancakes, which was a family tradition growing up and one I continue to this day. I will, of course, share it when I do because I am a firm believer that sharing our disciplines is a great way to be consistent in keeping them — it provides a level of accountability.
Whatever you decide to do, I strongly encourage you to “take something up.” During this time of isolation, discipline is important so we feel we aren’t stagnating and as a way to truly build one another up. In the end, we have given up a lot in the past year and if we can use these 40 days to help with those losses for ourselves and others, we have embraced the Cross as it leads to resurrection.
Gracious God, may we use these 40 days to draw closer to you and find all that you give to us when we turn to you to grow in our faith and discipline. In the name of the one who walked the road to the Cross we pray. Amen.