Giving things up for Lent isn’t easy. But even more difficult is what comes next.
When we give things up, we get a little bit lighter. Just like when we get rid of physical clutter–on the shelf under the coffee table, perhaps, or the bottom of your closet–we feel more sane. (Or maybe that’s just me.)
Our stuff and our schedules and our own feelings of importance bog us down most of the year. And then Lent comes along and we try to break free.
We free up our time when we cut out something that is a time-suck for us (Facebook, television, snacking mindlessly); we free up our bodies when we recognize our dependence on caffeine, tobacco, sugar, or even those convenient, processed foods that seem to make our lives easier; and we free up our souls when we cut out something that distracts us (any of the aforementioned things as well as clutter in the house, too many meetings and scurrying about, working 60-hour weeks, endless to-do lists hanging over our heads).
If we can get free from the things that are hindering our time, our bodies, and our souls, we become aware of something.
We are broken people living lives of addiction and distraction. We can do nothing on our own without grace. Indeed, nothing we have is our own apart from grace.
We don’t deserve any of it.
It’s not a nice realization, but it’s pretty darn important. When we stare down into the dark abyss of this central reality of Lent, we are faced with two tasks.
1. We turn inward to cultivate a life of grace.
2. We turn outward because we can’t help but realize what Jesus meant by the neighbors we are to love as ourselves.
We realize that we, in our needs, are no different than the homeless man arriving at the soup kitchen on Monday for lunch. He needs grace. I need grace. You need grace.
We, in our needs, are no different than the elderly woman living alone across the street who watches TV late into the night in her dark living room. She needs grace. I need grace. You need grace.
We, in our needs, are no different than the teenagers in skinny jeans and spiky hair at the mall, the children in the foster care system, the mentally ill woman on the bus. We, in our needs, are no different from the perpetrators of violence we hear about on the news and the victims of human trafficking we don’t hear about on the news.
They need grace. I need grace. You need grace.
What I’m trying to say is that if Lent becomes just about you making time for God because you’re not watching TV or because you’re hungry all the time, you’re missing out, my friends.
Make time for God. Do.
Break your “fasts” on Sundays and remember how even little things like sugar in your tea, a meal with meat in it, a brief jaunt over to Facebook are not things you deserve but are just fortunate to have. Do.
Pray more. Eat less. Read the Bible. Confess your sins.
Do. Do. Do. Do.
Look out your windows at your neighbors. And then go talk to them. Find out about ways to serve in your community. And then do it. Invite someone into your home you never have before. A lonely person from church. A widower. A college student. (And then do it again.) Host a weekly Lenten potluck and make an effort at diversity. Maybe half of the guests will be over 35 and half under 35. Maybe only half will be white, your religion, or your tax bracket. The important thing is this: don't just invite your friends. Buy a McDonalds or Subway or WalMart giftcard and when you offer it to someone standing on the street corner, stop and get to know her. Look her in the eyes. Call your cashier by name at the grocery store. Thank him. And mean it. Write a letter of gratitude to someone in ministry. A pastor. A missionary. An activist. A gardener.
In other words, as you stare into the abyss, offer grace freely this Lent. It’s the only way to receive it back.
And we need it.
Do we ever need it.