What to give up for Lent was quite the thing when I was a child, as was probably the case for most of you. My own children “gave things up” as well, but I don’t know if it is quite the universal thing, among Christians, that is, as it once was. Maybe too many preachers like me, saying “Take something up for Lent” have weakened the old and simple discipline.
Discipline is, of course, what it is all about. While we may lament that sports programs have moved into the once sacred space of the Sabbath, along with Sunday shopping and all the rest of it, those young people out there training and competing didn’t get there by sitting on their sofas. They practice and practice and then go out and try their skills against other youngsters. Only one team can win in any competition, but all grow and learn, even if only through having to deal with disappointment. Our media like to celebrate victory, and at the Olympic level gold medals are bankable. But that’s a different thing from developing character and discipline: celebrity winners can be quite entitled and obnoxious. Friendly competition on a level playing field and the handling of victory and loss with grace, however, build real and graceful character.
We come into Lent to discipline ourselves and grow in character. We are not setting out to prove how holy we are or to win sainthood. Those things are long in the making and don’t come from a sudden sprint or burst of energy. We get off our spiritual sofas and set out to practice what we say we believe; to challenge ourselves in the face of our own repeated failures to do so; and to build a community in which we learn to strive together rather than against one another. We run a race in which the more winners there are, the more we all win. Invidious comparison, setting oneself up or putting others down have no place in this. We are all sinners and all uniquely dysfunctional. We train to become a team that, in the mind of God, includes all humanity.
So what will you do to train this Lent? Come to Church more regularly; help out with events or with the community dinners; give to the poor; pray and study harder; join in the Lenten program; give some-thing up to challenge unexamined appetites, habits or addictions; treat others with more respect and forbearance? What will you do to grow into a better, healthier person?
Take the time, reflect, consider, pray, work. Do something and get off that spiritual sofa.
[And now that I have finished preaching about it, how will I better practice what I preach?]