Today is Ash Wednesday, signalling the 40 day period before Easter.
Traditionally, it has been a time where people have “given up” something: Sugar, coffee, meat, gossiping, anger, etc.
Other people choose to take something on: Praying, giving, exercise, contemplation, etc.
Last year, I chose to wake up early every morning and pray. I started with Centering Prayer, and ended with Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. It truly changed my life.
Some of my favourite authors have written some wise words about Lent, so I’m simply going to borrow some of their words.
“Lent is not really about sacrifice and deprivation, it is about freedom and transformation. This is not a time to wallow in our sins and shout woe is me, though it is a time to acknowledge our brokenness, repent of our sins and journey towards wholeness. It is a time to acknowledge the deep longing of our hearts for a more intimate walk with God and consider ways that we might accomplish that.” – Christine Sine
“God’s people first came into existence when the children of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt and called out into the desert to be educated into freedom, to learn to live with no other master but God himself.” – Thomas Merton
“For me Merton’s words sum up the true purpose of Lent. God wants to educate us into the true freedom of following God with all our hearts and minds and actions. In this season God wants to liberate us from the bondages of our slavery to self-centredness, greed, busyness, and rampant consumerism. God wants us to help others be liberated from the bondages of poverty, sex trafficking, imprisonment, addictions, injustice and disease. And God wants us to commit to the liberation of our earth from pollution, deforestation and species extinction.” – Christine Sine
“In a world filled with clutter, noise, and hustle, Lent is a good excuse to step back and rethink how we think and live. In a world of instant gratification, it’s a chance to practice delayed gratification – to fast – so that we can truly appreciate the blessings we have. In a world where virtual friends are replacing real ones, it is an invitation to turn off TV and computer screens so we can spend time with real people again. It’s an opportunity to give up something that is sucking the life out of us so that we can be filled with God, with life, with love again.” – Shane Claiborne
I find myself screaming these thoughts inside. Longing for God! Freedom! Contentment! Liberation! Filled with God, life and love again! My spiritual director shared with me that if our lives were like rubber bands, most of us able to stretch when needed. The problem, she said, was that most of live almost all of our lives stretched out, and so we are completely unable to stretch anymore.
This is my life right now. Maybe it’s because of my job as a pastor. Maybe it’s because this has been the coldest winter in my life and it’s finally getting to my soul. Maybe it’s the season of life I’m in (with small children, plus a teenager), where I am perpetually tired and giving of myself. I love my life, but I am stretched out. I want rest. I want renewal.
This year, I will be doing a bit of giving up, and a bit of taking something on.
I will again attempt to pray in the mornings. However, with the kids waking up at stupid hours, I am plan on giving myself some grace on this one. It’s hard to put it into words, but the more I center myself in God through prayer, I am both more loving and present to those around me.
I will also not bring my phone into my bedroom at night, but instead end my days with reading and/or prayer instead of email and game #830 of cribbage against the computer (I’m up 422-408).
And I will be saying goodbye to my social media apps on my phone. I will miss out on how some of you are doing, I will miss reading articles from my favourite authors, and I will definitely miss seeing your pictures on Instagram. I’m sure that you’ll all miss the Arianna-isms, my impeccable wit (smile), and certainly the Facebook birthday greetings from a sasquatch. But in doing so, I am hoping to be more present to God, my family, myself, my friends, my church, and the earth.
This Lent, may we say yes to some things, no to other things, and be re-filled with God, life, and love again.
Grace and Peace,
PS – If your birthday is between now and Easter, this picture is for you.