And So Lent Begins
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” -- Philippians 4:13
Every year I look forward to Lent and the necessary work of spiritual housecleaning. Though I’ve been at it for decades, sometimes I act like a spiritual hoarder. I love to stock up on junk to soothe my anxieties instead of reaching for the always available source of the holy. What I reach for may vary year to year, but it’s always something. As my mid-section attests, I reach for ice cream in all its myriad, remarkable flavors whenever I need a mini-break. It’s an easy swap out, flavor of the month over challenge of the day. At Christmastime I reach for peppermint stick, in January, its cinnamon, and when I can get it, pistachio and coconut make my day.
Yesterday’s ashes still mark my memory, if not my forehead. Let the spiritual housecleaning begin. People ask me all the time if we really have to give up something for Lent, how old fashioned. One woman proudly announced that she adds a practice, like reading a daily devotional, since she’s gotten out of the habit. Good for her, always a grand idea to get back good daily habits when you haven’t been to the spiritual gym in over a month, (but who’s counting). Nevertheless, the ancient practice of sacrificing something to which we become overly attached still holds.
Lent provides the golden opportunity to clear the detritus that gets in the way of our trust in God. Adding something new without first carting something out of the spiritual house is like buying a new wardrobe without first donating all those clothes you never wear.
We sacrifice for the forty days of Lent, not counting Sundays which offer a sabbath from deprivation, whatever it is that we reach for instead of God. It can be anything: Netflix, TikToc, scotch, chocolate, porn, gossip, Facebook, or binge-watching the news. When you stop by to see me for clarification on the rules, I’m on to you.
Like me, you’re looking for an escape clause, considering ten things you’re willing to release instead of the one thing you’re walking around like an elephant in the living room. One woman I know gave up buying anything via credit cards. If she didn’t have the cash, she didn’t buy it. One year I gave up buying any food wrapped in plastic. That exasperating practice taught me a great deal about the amount of trash I generate on a daily basis, and how difficult it can be to change a life-long habit of “use it and lose it”.
If you’re still reading this, I suspect you’re feeling a little sludgy from a bad spiritual diet of junk food decisions that satisfy for a moment yet ultimately deplete your spiritual energy. So, here’s the deal. You already know the antidote when you’re running on empty and feeling distanced from your life. If you’re feeling lethargic and joy seems a distant memory, then ask God for the courage to clean house. What do you reach for whenever you’re bored, anxious, sad, or lonely? That’s the thing to let go and let God.
You’re still going to feel bored, anxious, sad or lonely sometimes, and when you do, reach for the only real deal that can satisfy. Take a walk every day and pray. When you’re tempted to reach for that other thing, express gratitude on that paper you keep for the grocery list. Forgive somebody you can’t stand. Read a daily devotional, there are dozens on-line or at your local bookstore, or delivered in 24 hours to your door via Amazon. Read the Bible, start with the Psalms, or John, or close your eyes and stick your finger on a page and begin. This isn’t complicated. Just do something that will ground you in the love of God that promises all manner of things shall be well, and to never leave you or forsake you even to the end of time. That other thing you enjoy so much will never deliver on this promise. That’s a promise only God will keep.
Prayer: God, I know, that you know, that I know, what you want. Grant me sufficient trust to give myself wholly to you, just for today, trusting that all that I need your hand will provide. Amen
God’s grace, mercy and peace be with you,
Rev. Dr. Anna V. Copeland
Senior Minister, The Community Church of Vero Beach