Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Adding Good

Disclaimer: Today's post is about Lent, and therefore explicitly Christian, unlike many of my other devotional posts that strive for a sort of spiritual inclusivity. I know that many of my readers follow other faiths or no faith at all. It is not my wish to clobber anyone over the head with my religion, so feel free to skip today's post if you want.

Years ago, I heard a church member bitterly remark that no one gives stuff up for Lent anymore. Lent and Easter, she thought, ought to be a Christian's favorite season on the Church calendar, but people get sucked into the commercial celebration of Christmas and ignore Easter, except for the candy and bunny and eggs (which are all pagan anyway, harrumph).

Her point, I think, is that Christ's death and resurrection opened heaven for us, and we are ungrateful wretches about it. The least we can do to acknowledge that enormous debt is give up chocolate for Lent.


As I study the Bible, I am struck by Jesus' repeated and firm insistence on the importance of inward state of being rather than outward show. Think of the parable of the widow's mite. God values a small gift given out of love higher than a big gift given to impress.

Some people, like the bitter church member, judge other people's inward state of heart by looking at their outward public actions. That judgment involves a pretty big assumption. How many serial killers have neighbors who say, "I'm shocked. He was so nice and quiet and grew beautiful orchids!"

Instead, let's flip the assumption around: our inward state of heart should dictate our actions. What we do for Lent should rise up from inside us, from that place that houses our values and faith.

And because we're all different, our actions will be different.

Instead of worrying about following rules this Lent, rethink Lenten sacrifice. Try doing something personally meaningful to celebrate the life and resurrection of Jesus. The outward show of sacrifice isn't what's important. What's important is the inward focus on your relationship with God.

For some of you, it will indeed be giving up something, sacrificing a luxury or treat to remind you daily of another, much bigger, sacrifice. If you are one of the many people who benefit spiritually from Lenten sacrifice, that's wonderful. Stick with it. 

I, on the other hand, like the idea of adding something. I preach and whine about busyness, but that makes me all the more certain that keeping my inward eye on God involves refocusing that outward busyness. Adding something to my schedule, something that feels worshipful, makes sense to me. That's why I've started a daily devotional and recommitted myself to sending more cards to people.

When I asked Nick about this, he took it in a different direction entirely and without hesitation decided to strive to be more cheerful even when he doesn't feel like it. That's pretty cool, don't you think?

What's your widow's mite? How will you honor Lent? While telling the world in a blog comment might feel contradictory to the message of inward focus, I do think others benefit from shared ideas. Your idea might spark something meaningful in someone on the other side of the world, so please share.


  1. In the Lutheran Church, Lent is a rather somber time. We are to be introspective, looking at how we are, thinking about how we should be, and all the while keeping our eye on the horrific death Jesus suffered on our behalf for the propitiation of our sins. That, then amplifies His glorious Death, Resurrection and the best part of all - His coming back for us. In my Church in Washington State there was a member who refused to come to Good Friday because she could not come to grips with His Sacrificial Death. She didn't realize all of the events were part of the "Plan" before the world began.

    I don't give anything up for Lent. It used to bug me when people proudly gave up chocolate or some other thing that they loved. But I do like your idea of adding something. Humbly. Nick's response was perfect.

  2. A friend suggested that throwing 27 items a day away actually might be a Lenten practive. I'm thinking of taking that on.

  3. Thanks for this, Susan. My daughter and I discussed Lent earlier this week. She told me she was thinking of giving up sweets (but not chocolate, LOL!) but wasn't sure about this. She told me that her Grandma (my Mum) is giving up all sweets and alcohol for Lent. After thinking about it, my daughter has decided she'll give up all sweets (including chocolate) but not ice-cream. I'm not sure she's committed to this yet - no sweets for a sweets addict is hard work! :-) I really love your ideas around sacrifice rather than "giving up something". I will have a further discussion with my daughter. I really like Nick's idea, and I might do the same. I like your idea too!

  4. I like your thoughts, Susan. I've never really given anything up for Lent, but this year I've decided to give up spending so much time on Facebook playing games. I hope to use that time more productively, such as card making, knitting, and adding a Lenten Devotion (which is sitting on my sideboard, waiting to be opened). Don't know when I got so addicted to games, but when they seem more like work than fun, it is time to stop. (I quit Farmville over a month ago and I am surviving. Now it's time for cutting back on the other ones (3 others).

  5. Wonderfully written, Susan :) Such an opportunity for wonderful depth in your relationship with Christ as well as reflection. I want to spend a more concentrated amount of time in prayer and just being still before God over lent, drinking deep and being open to what He calls me to do :)

  6. Thanks for your thoughtful Lenten devotion. There was no focus on "giving up" in my religious upbringing. Adding good is a much better focus. Sometimes we can add good by giving up something. A friend is giving up Facebook, so she can spend more time focused on her family.

    I lost one of my closest friends in late January. She was diagnosed with cancer in November, and had just started chemo. It was a shock, how quickly she was gone. It has made me think that I need to tend my friendships more closely and carefully, as she always did. Her great gift was her card ministry. She believed that a card was not intrusive. It could be read at any hour of the day or night, in your PJs, in an untidy house or between bouts of nausea. It could be put aside if one didn't feel good when it arrived and it could be read more than once for a quick pick-me-up.

    I can't go back and do more for her, but I hope to honor her by being a better friend to others. I think she would agree that Lent is a great time to begin.

  7. My grandmother grew up in Latvia, in a Catholic family, who celebrated Lent by giving up meat, not just for Fridays but for the whole of Lent. She used to walk by the butcher shop to look at the meat display in the window. She felt this was a wrong action of her part, and an overly strict action on the part of her parents, so as an adult, she no longer "gave up" something for Lent.

    I do the same - I add something to my life - this Lent it is walking on my treadmill three times a day. I don't like doing it, it is hard for me to do as I have muscular dystrophy, but I need to and it is a way for me to recognize Lent.

  8. Susan -

    At Mass on Ash Wednesday, our priest reminded us that ashes on our foreheads were just dirt if they weren't really representative of what is in our hearts. If someone can't discern the depth of my faith and committment to Christ from my actions, then no amount of ashes can make up for that.

    In our family, we subscribe to a three step approach to Lent -- prayer, fasting and almgiving. We try to do something to increase our prayer life and relationship with God. This year, that will be visiting our Eucharistic Adoration Chapel each week. Fasting includes giving something up, a small sacrifice to remind us the much greater sacrifice made for us. Almsgiving is the something more. It doesn't have to be money, as sometimes giving time, patience or, like Nick, cheerfulness is much harder than dropping an extra $10 in the collection basket.

    Most of all, we are trying to be mindful of the great gift we have been given and though we can never really merit it, we can appreciate it.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!