We will celebrate the Resurrection of Christ in less than three weeks. Halfway through Lent, I’m pondering what the Lenten season means to me, and revisiting an experience from two years ago that turned around my thinking on the tradition of “giving up” for Lent. Reflecting on that experience helped me see that maybe it’s not what we give up that defines our commitment to Christ, but what we do…..or don’t do.
Here are some thoughts on penitence from March, 2014:
One year it was chocolate. Another, caffeine. A couple of times, it was television. And growing up as a good Catholic girl, it was always meat on Fridays.
What did you give up for Lent?
Perhaps the better question is “What will you GIVE?”
It’s the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday — the first Sunday of Lent — and we’re sitting in an old brick church in downtown Nashville, Tennessee with two of our sons who now call this city home. Surrounded by folks who mostly exhibit a bent toward the “artistic”, it’s obvious we’re from out-of-town. But the warm handshakes and familiar worship music remind us that we’re all “the church”, whatever our roots.
Worship ends and a young woman with purple hair takes the microphone to share with us her recent experience as a missionary at Rapha House in Saigon where children are rescued from sex trafficking. A beautician by trade, she is passionate about the work being done there and says she didn’t want to leave. She hopes to go back.
We hear of upcoming events in the church — retreats for men and women, outreaches in the community. This small congregation with a focus on missions is also meeting needs in its own backyard.
But it’s when the young pastor takes the stage that God pulls me toward the heart of His church with this message:
“We define ourselves by what we don’t do.”
As he draws attention to this Season of Lent, the pastor talks about fasting, reading the Book of John weekly, slowing down to listen. But then he returns to it……
……what we don’t do.
The words have hung in the air all week. As we approach this second Sunday on our journey to the cross, I’m still rolling them around in my head.
“Works” are not what God requires. I understand that. It’s not what we DO that earns us the right to call ourselves followers of Christ. Then again, in the literal sense, NOT doing something — eating meat, watching television, consuming caffeine — does not define me, either. During these 40 days, I can forgo luxuries as an act of penitence, but I also know that I need only ask and I am forgiven. Sacrifice in the name of the One who made the ultimate sacrifice is a good thing. But does it define me?
Here’s what I think: It’s a two-sided coin.
- Choose not to indulge in practices, attitudes, thoughts that are not God-honoring. If this is what I don’t do, it is good. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Colossians 3:5-8
- Choose not to reach out to those in need, to travel across the world and show love to a violated child, to spend time reading God’s word and beseeching Him in prayer. If it is these things that I don’t do, how is that good? “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ ” Matthew 25:45; and “My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding.” Psalm 49:3
Choose either side of the coin, and I am defined by what I don’t do.
So back to our question. What will you GIVE for Lent?
While 17 percent of the adult population, according to a recent survey by Barna Group, will be giving up some form of food or technology for Lent, maybe the rest of us can decide what we will GIVE.
To give our time, love, devotion, energy, attention, wisdom, affection — all things we sometimes don’t do. Lay these alongside things we’ve determined that, as new creatures in Christ, we don’t do — anger, rage, malice, slander. Isn’t this the ultimate gift?
Given in the name of the Christ, who freely gives us grace, mercy and forgiveness, these may be the greatest acts of penitence.