'What are you giving up for Lent?'
For some of us at least, this may have been a regular question over the last couple of weeks. (Perhaps a dwindling number? Am I alone in thinking that a meaningful observance of Lent is diminishing as a practice amongst western Christians?)
Of course there are a goodly number who are saying 'Don't give things up for Lent! Take something up instead!' And of course this has a very favourable ring for any number of reasons. We like to do something good. Giving something up denies ourselves in a way that we get no reward from - we can see taking something up as a way of both denying ourselves And helping others. So, no more fasting, instead we can have our virtuous cake And eat it! :) BUT, generally our lives are so very busy it is very difficult to take anything new up, or at the very least - we will have to fit it in and around our lives as is convenient to us.
I was thinking recently of a church where attendance at Lent classes had fallen very low. The Vicar was scratching his head, and suggested that , 'because people are so very busy nowadays, perhaps we should just publish the material online for folk to pick up and use when was convenient to them?'.
This suggestion was brought to mind at our Lent Class last night, when we shared a reading from Resident Aliens, by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. In it they recount the story of a new pastor who had the bright idea of the church providing a daycare unit for the convenience of people in his parish. But a lady named Gladys spoke out against it - because the people of the parish were generally too busy to look after their children because they were continually chasing the dream of a bigger and better and bigger and better lifestyle. Two cars, lovely vacations and every material convenience - but lacked time for their children. She said she thought the church had no business supporting people in such material acquisitiveness when it so denied community and family. She said that there were families downtown, where both parents had to work, just to put food on the table, but she didn't hear her church suggesting that they were going to go and help out down there.The pastor responded to her "Gladys, with questions like the ones you are raising, we just might become a church after all."
Well the parallel isn't a straight one, but it raised for me how far we seem to go in 'fitting Lent' or indeed 'fitting church' in and around our increasingly frenetic lives.
Lent is a great gift to us and one of the greatest gifts it gives us through the strict requirements of fasting, and intensified times of prayer, and almsgiving, is that faith is not a matter of our convenience, it is not about us. God in Christ takes hold of a people, he sets them apart as his. They are called from whatever is absorbing them, to be absorbed in Him and His Life. "They left their nets and followed him" We are given a new identity when God takes hold of us. Disciples of his Son. It is not something we choose for ourselves. For all of us it is inconvenient as it means laying all our plans and hopes and dreams for our lives aside.
But it is a Glorious inconvenience - for what can be better than to be called into the realization of the Plans, Hopes and Dreams of God - the Source of all Life and Love. If we have but mustard seed faith, then even what is thought the greatest of inconveniences, becomes the instrument of Life.
What are you giving up for lent??
Better, what will we give up for Him?