I wrote this piece on February 21, 2012. I just re-read it and thought it may be a fitting post to resurrect this Lenten season. Enjoy!
Tomorrow is Lent. Traditionally in my old church back home, we recognized Lent by having a preaching series we called, “The Lenten Series” that would occur in the week leading up. I recall in my Princeton days I always knew when Lent began when I’d skip chapel that morning (as I did often) and I would see everyone walking around with a gray circle on their forehead. I would say, “Oh…must be Lent.” I never really took it seriously. My mom would always mention that she was giving up chocolate or something. My other friends might mention that they were going to avoid starches and white flour which almost always signified that they were fasting as an excuse to lose a few pounds. But again, never something I took seriously. As we prepare for tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday services that we’ll have in the morning and evening respectively, we’ve been tirelessly planning out who is going to do what in the services. What songs will the worship team sing and when is an appropriate place for them to sing it? When will we stream live on one campus as opposed to the other? Which student will read scripture? When will the Pastors put ashes on the students who want it? But then my supervisor pointed a bit of a mirror on all of us by asking, what will we take up or give up?
I hadn’t quite thought about myself. Which unfortunately is what many ministry leaders & “seasoned saints” have a tendency to fall into. We know what everyone else should be doing and in the midst of trying to figure out how to tell everyone else how they should be doing it, we forget about ourselves. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It’s on Ash Wednesday that our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and reminds us that life passes away on Earth. So, when I’m administering ashes to students tomorrow I will simply say “from dust you came and to dust you shall return.” Yikes. Sorry to put a damper on your jovial holiday spirits, but those few words are just reminders of the truth. And it’s in this Lenten season that we’ll take the next 46 days to meditate over that truth. It is a season of repentance, reflection, and fasting all in preparation for Resurrection or Easter Sunday.
It’s a season where the finger points back at you.
I guess I’m kind of convicted because I haven’t really thought about it. I’m too busy trying to figure out how I can fly home for Easter and which services I won’t attend on Easter morning. But this season is for inward reflection and for one thing, I am grateful for it. I probably need to sit back a bit and repent, reflect and fast. Maybe fasting isn’t only limited to something my church decides to do as a whole or when I have some big event coming up or when I “feel led.” Maybe I can do something a little different and move alongside the Liturgical Calendar and hold fast to a historical tradition.
So what to give up and what to take up?
We use those words give up and take up to our students here so that they don’t feel confined to just giving something up without taking up a healthy spiritual habit or discipline alongside of it. Giving up food only is so passé. People are beginning to use it as a form of dieting and that can be dangerous. Truly put some thought into what you’ll give up. Let it be a sacrifice. If it’s food then, okay cool. But if you know you spend hours playing video games every day then, maybe that will be better than giving up McDonalds burgers. I heard a really great one today about a student giving up wearing makeup for 46 days. BRAVO. What courage!
Now, what to take up?
Well, what spiritual habit or discipline have you neglected? Prayer? Scripture reading? Will you take up serving others more intentionally? Mentoring a little brother or sister? Sky’s the limit. I was reminded today that sometimes, you just have to practice what you preach. Sometimes, you just have to live out what you speak. I think I’m going to think long and hard over the next few hours about what I’m going to give up and take up for this Lenten season…and i’d tell you what I’m going to be doing, but it’s a secret.