Thursday, March 10, 2011

Giving up Lent for Lent

This is the newsletter article I wrote for the month of March. As we begin the Lenten journey to Easter, sometimes it helps to remember that Lent is not about guilt or a competition to see who can give up the most. My idea of "giving up Lent for Lent" was inspired by Dr. Schramm up at the seminary.

"Giving up Lent for Lent"

God's grace and peace be with all of you!

This month, we enter the season of Lent - a time of penitence and reflection before Easter, modeled on Jesus' own time in the wilderness. Christians have traditionally given up certain luxuries - like meat - for this season. Today, many choose to give up chocolate or soda or other temptations.

Others choose to take on a practice rather than give something up. They may take on an intentional time each day for prayer or reading Scripture. They may choose to devote extra time or money for caring for others.

The purpose of "giving up" or "taking on" is to deepen our spiritual lives. We remind ourselves during Lent that we are dependent on God and that God calls us to care for others. We should remember these lessons all year round! But sometimes it helps to have a reminder, and so many people choose a Lenten practice. Yet sometimes, the practice of Lent can feel like a burden.

One of my seminary professors is fond of saying every year, "I'm giving up Lent for Lent." Now, I can't say I know exactly what he meant by those words, but I think his point was that he was opting out: neither giving something up nor taking something on. In the overwhelming stress of seminary, I appreciated his implicit permission not to "do Lent." Sometimes our lives don't fit with the liturgical calendar. Sometimes we can't give anything up. Sometimes we can't squeeze a single extra thing onto our overburdened plates. Sometimes we need to give up Lent for Lent.

When we feel overwhelmed, Lent can seem like the straw that broke the camel's back: it's just one more thing we're expected to do. That's not how Lent should be. The season of Lent isn't designed to make us feel guilty and inadequate. It's designed to help us center our lives on God, and we can do that in a variety of ways.

So if you give something up this Lenten season, I pray that you will be reminded that we do not live by bread (or chocolate, or caffeine) alone. If you take something on, I pray that you will be enriched and enrich the lives of others. And if you choose to give up Lent for Lent, I offer you the words of Martin Luther: "Sin boldly! And trust in Christ more boldly still."

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