Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. – Joel 2:12-13
Alicia Britt Chole in “40 Days of Decrease” writes:
‘God seems more interested in what we are becoming than in what we are giving up. Faith, in general, is less about the sacrifice of stuff and more about the surrender of our souls.
Lent, in kind, is less about well-mannered denial and more about thinning our lives in order to thicken our communion with God.
Decrease is holy only when its destination is love.
Lent is often, and understandably, described with project language. The season has a starting date, an ending date, and clear, quantifiable goals ‘to accomplish’ in between. After Easter, consequently, we evaluate Lent with project language. We ‘did okay’ or ‘only made it two weeks’ or ‘kept our commitment’ or ‘totally failed.’
Whether engaging this experience prior to Easter, or at another time during the year, from day one, I invite you to consider Lent as less of a project and more of a sojourn. A sojourn is a ‘temporary stay at a place.’ And a ‘stay’ is about presence, not productivity. For the next forty days, fast measuring your ‘success’ statistically – that is, resist calculating how often you keep your commitment to do without meat or sugar or your favorite shows. Instead, invest your energy in seeking to remain present to the sacred history of Jesus’ walk to the cross… Fast Lent as project and enter Lent as experience, as a sojourn with your Savior.’
Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and in this way to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what path we must take in life. (Benedict XVI)
And so, this week we must ask some questions:
1. When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different? What am I preparing for?
2. Is there something in my life—a habit, a grudge, a fear, a prejudice, an addiction, an emotional barrier, a form of excess—that keeps me from loving God with my heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving my neighbor as myself? How might I address that over the next 40 days?
3. What are some things in my life that I tell myself I need but I don’t? Can I give one or two of them up for 40 days? Or from an alternate view point, ask God what He wants you to ‘pick up’ from Him, and that may help you discern what you should ‘put down’ for Him. (Osheta Moore)
4. Why am I giving this particular thing up? How does giving it up draw me closer to God and prepare me for Easter?
5. What am I going to tell myself when self-denial gets hard?
6. Is it necessary/helpful for me to share the nature or my fast with others or should I keep it private?
7. Is there anyone in my life from whom I need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation?
8. Is there a spiritual discipline—praying the hours, lectio divina, the examen—that I’ve always wanted to try? How might I alter my daily routine to include one of these disciplines?
9. What distractions most commonly interfere with my time in prayer/Scripture?
10. Lent is a time to listen to God, but sometimes God speaks through others, particularly the poor, oppressed, marginalized, and suffering. To whom should I be listening this season? How can I cultivate a listening posture toward others whose perspective and experiences might differ from my own?
11. The cycle of death and resurrection is central to the Christian faith. In what ways is that cycle present in my life right now? Where might there be necessary change, suffering, death and decay, and how might new life emerge from those experiences?
12. How do I want Lent 2017 to affect not only the next 40 days but also the next 40 years?
(Questions adapted from Rachel Held Evans)
During this sacred season of Lent, help me to look deep within myself and let go of the old and embrace the new life that comes from you. Bring me closer to you. Prepare a place in my home and heart for silence and solitude, so that I may re-discover the grace of a prayer-full life.
Help me to fast from those things that threaten the well-being of body and soul and remind me of the grace of simplicity.
Enlarge my heart so that I give to those in need and, in so doing, re-discover the grace of gratitude and generosity.
May this season be a grace-filled time to rekindle my love for and faith in you.