“SELF-DISCIPLINE AND LENT”
One of the problems about modern day Christianity is that we forget the importance of language. Each generation communicates in a different way. Words change meaning every few generations. Think of words like “cool,” “gay,” “law”, “drama,” and “politician”. For almost all of us there was a different connotation for these words when we were younger. Now they mean something else, and sometimes many things depending on the audience.
Lent is decreasingly becoming important in society, and even so in the Church. It used to be a time of study and reflection. Now it takes effort for even many Christian congregations to spend their energy around services in Lent, unless they are Maundy Thursday or Good Friday (and many Christian congregations no longer do much on Maundy Thursday!). Lent, for many adults 40 years and older, was a time of “denial,” “discipline,” “penitence,” and “fasting”. Think of what these words now mean to most people. Denial is now a legal term for most—meaning a time of lying or not admitting something. Discipline is seen as physi-cal abuse. Penitence is seen as serving some legal sentence for something. Fasting is seen as starving. This was not even remotely the original intent of the words. But we must remember how they are seen at any given time.
Even the season of Lent has undergone a radical transformation. There was a time when the 40 days was truly a time of changing our normal routines. People weren’t allowed to have special celebration days or feasts. It was a time of serious reflection. Now there are at least 3 or 4 cultural holidays during this time (unless you want to add Casimir Pulaski day….). Even the “taking aside” of Sunday for only a holy day has stopped.
Lent was originally a time that “brought forth Light” into that part of the Christian story which was the hardest to explain to the world. Why would we celebrate the death of God’s Son? And what would that mean to a world which thought that gods could not possibly die? Since Lent coincided with the season where days became longer (Lent—lengthen or long), the early Church used this as a time to teach the early Christians about Christianity so that they could become baptized on Easter morning, and “become new” on the day of resurrection. They wanted to take a time already used one way, and re-define it for a new reality
And that is what I want to do here; I want to move from stating the problem to re-defining Lent for a modern time. If we want to make faith relevant to a modern day culture, we can either coerce peo-ple to accept old ways, or find a creative way to enter modern day culture and teach them about the meaning of Lent. I would much rather be creative than forceful. So I want to go back to an early defini-tion of discipline: “training that develops self-control or character”. What if we used this season of Lent to show the world how we want to develop Christ-like character and lives that show faithful control over who we are?
Think of Lent in a new way. What behaviors do we want to focus on, that once practiced, will become regular in our lives. Don’t think of it like a New Year’s ridiculous resolution (I will lose 70 pounds in 3 months….), but as something we know we can do, and know that it is helpful, and know that it is something others will see as respectful and loving. Examples:
> I will truly begin each day with prayer, whether in silence, off a list of people for whom to pray, or with some practice that lets me truly think about God first;
> I will write an encouraging note to someone I know needs or deserves some love. It could be to a long-lost friend, to a family member, to a shut-in at church, to someone who now lives out of the area;
> I will take some of that change I have been collecting (gaining no interest), and show an interest in a mission or ministry (it can be here; it can be something else);
> I will watch or read something that I know will help grow my spirit (it can be a good book –even the “Good Book”; it can be a movie or show that we know attends to service or love or for-giveness);
> I will take a day off. Period. And not overfill it with everyone else’s requests. My body deserves time to heal, to rest, to play. I might even rediscover my spouse, child(ren), friends….;
> I will go for a walk. Appreciate God’s beauty in nature. Breathe outside air. It might be going to a zoo, or just going around the block.
Think of Lent in a new way. I don’t see any of the above as punishments, which is, unfortu-nately, the way the Church thought of being disciplined. I see Lent as a time of making more clear who I want to follow—and I want to follow Jesus. I am more and more appreciating that part of discipline which is interested in my character; who I want to be in Christ. I am less and less interested in doing things for the sake of doing them. That is why so many people have checked out of traditional Lenten programs and “disciplines”. Most are not connected with the development of our spirit, and our
As our Acts 15 team has discerned: our congregation’s members want things that truly attend to our spiritual growth, and make sense when we do them. Ministry is not about “doing”, even as we do things. It is to be about growing closer to God, and helping others come closer to God. So use this Lent to be about this. If the things in the list above don’t work for you—think of something that will help you become closer to God, and truly make you a better person in Christ, and then do it.
Blessings upon you and all you love in this season of Lent -