I have had a love/hate relationship with Lent that started back in 2004. See, having been raised in the Assembly of God church, we never observed the church/liturgical calendar. I also attended a Southern Baptist college, a denomination that does not observe the church/liturgical calendar either. So when Scott took a youth pastor position at Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church, I first learned of Lent, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and so forth and so on.
I remember going into that first Ash Wednesday service in February 2004. Scott did NOT give me a heads up about what was going to happen that night. I sat in the pew and listened to a pretty depressing sermon about how we should remember how pathetic we are as humans (I’m sure that wasn’t the total gist of the sermon, but that’s what I seemed to have taken away from it). “We are nothing but ashes and to ashes we will return”, blah, blah, blah. Then we took turns going up to the altar like we do for communion, but instead of serving the elements, the pastor put ashes on my forehead (or hand if preferred) in the shape of a cross. The ashes came from the palm branches that had been used the previous year’s Palm Sunday. They actually burn them and use them for the next year’s Ash Wednesday service.
Needless to say, I was pretty creeped out and depressed by the time I got out of there. I mean, what a downer! I know I’m human and all, but I am also a child of the King! I know Jesus died for my sins, of which I’m indescribably grateful, but He also rose from the grave! Why did we have to focus on such depressing things? I remember going to my work the next morning, finding a good friend and coworker that happened to be Catholic, and said, “What the heck are these ashes for?!”
Well, the next year rolls around, but I decided to not participate in the ‘Imposition of Ashes’. I figured that if I didn’t totally understand it or necessarily believe it was useful for my faith journey, I shouldn’t do it. I didn’t want to just go through the motions without knowing why in the world I was doing it! There are enough people in churches all over this country doing things out of ritual and habit without even recognizing the power that is behind some of those acts and words. I did NOT want to be one of those people. Therefore, I went to the Ash Wednesday service, but did not get smudged 🙂
The next year, 2006, we were actually at a new church, Pell City First United Methodist. I thought that maybe this year I would do some research about Ash Wednesday and decide for myself what I thought of it all. I read several things about it and decided that maybe the ‘ashes’ thing wasn’t so bad. It’s always good to remind ourselves that we are not ‘all that’. And this mark on my forehead was definitely a good tool to use to talk with others about my faith. I’m always cool with anything that can help me talk about my God to others.
Well, the thing that I haven’t addressed in this post yet is the ‘fasting’ that is supposed to occur in the 40 days that follow Ash Wednesday. This is called Lent. There are several good resources online to look at to explain Lent. Here is my best shot at it:
Lent is the season of preparation before Easter. It is the 40 days before Easter, excluding Sundays, and begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on the Saturday before Easter. This preparation usually includes fasting something and other types of spiritual disciplines. The purpose is to set aside time to reflect on the suffering and sacrifice, death and burial of Jesus Christ.
Well, I never fasted anything during Lent while at Taylor Memorial or at Pell City. Then we moved to Union City First United Methodist Church, and decided that maybe I should research what Lent actually was. Maybe it was something I should participate in.
For some reason, the whole Lent thing struck a wrong chord with me. First, I read about Fat Tuesday and how it seems that everyone just splurges and goes to excess because it’s the day before Ash Wednesday, where you then ask for forgiveness as you get ashes put on your forehead. Like everyone is ‘living it up’ before having to act all holy and put on ashes and fast. That seemed so hypocritical to me. I also did not like the idea of having to ‘do’ things to show my love for God. For some reason, I got this notion that I had to give something up, like Dr. Pepper or Facebook, to show people what a great Christian I was – which, by the way, is not the point of Lent at all. I think I just got some faulty intel 🙂 But it all just seemed SO legalistic to me. I wish I had actually seen this video that I have a link to below: Lent and Ash Wednesday in 2 Minutes.
I had a hard time hiding my disdain for Lent for a few years at Union City, especially in my conversations with our students. In particular, there was one youth, Hope Montgomery, who was giving up candy for Lent. And she would talk about it and I would jokingly tell her how dumb it was to give something up for Lent. What a terrible youth pastor’s wife I was!! I specifically remember telling her, “Jesus doesn’t care if you eat candy or not! Go ahead, eat those Runts!” (I really can’t remember what type of candy, but you get the picture.) Thank goodness, Hope was very mature spiritually, and ignored my anti-Lent rantings and saw her fast through 🙂
The last Ash Wednesday service in Union City that we participated in (before Scott was moved to AL) was in 2012. Scott actually preached that sermon. And with that sermon, he erased all the faulty research, negative thoughts, and depressing services that I had experienced or harbored in my soul. Basically, he said that if we plan on setting ourselves apart with fasting and repentance for just 40 days, then don’t bother. God calls us to more than 40 days. He calls us to a lifestyle. Fasting, repenting, and avoiding worldly temptations are all things we should do as followers of Christ, but it should be a lifestyle, not just a special effort once a year. Now I’m not saying that having this special season of Lent for reflection, fasting, and repentance is a bad thing, so please don’t think that. Having an annual reminder is probably a good thing for many of us as we walk with the Lord. I just hope we remember that it’s more than that.
So, I guess I’ve finally come to peace with Lent and its partner, Ash Wednesday. Actually, this year was the first year in a decade that I did not go to an Ash Wednesday service. So weird – I kind of missed it. Funny how something can grow on you, huh?
So maybe you’re wondering what I gave up for Lent this year. I am actually doing 2 things this year – one ‘taking up’ thing and one ‘giving up’ thing. The first thing, we are actually doing as a family. Our church, Crosswinds Church, is doing a 40-Day Gospel Challenge. It’s where we are reading the 4 Gospels during this season before Easter. So we are ‘taking up’ this daily Bible reading and doing it every night with the girls. We have actually acted some of the parables out to better explain them to the girls!
Now, for the ‘giving up’ thing – Ugh – It’s hurting and scaring me just typing it out. I’m giving up ‘making excuses’.
Now, I wish I could take credit for this idea, but I can’t. My sweet friend Lauren Stiles shared it with me. Right when she shared it with me, it’s like it punched me right in the gut. It hurt, but in a good way. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
See, I’m currently unhealthy, which is just a nice way saying I’m overweight. I really can’t stand it. But I continue to make excuses for my current physical state. Here are a few listed below:
1 – I have no time to exercise.
2 – Eating healthy is expensive.
3 – I’m not a good cook.
4 – I’m spiritually fit, and that’s what really matters.
5 – I’m such a goodie-goodie – no drinking, smoking… I’m entitled to have one vice – FOOD.
6 – We have moved 2 times in 2 years – I’m stressed!
7 – My mom died.
As you can see, my excuses seem to get more intense as the list grew. And I use at least one of these a day! But it’s time to make a change.
1 – I may say I don’t have time to exercise, but actually, you make time for the things you want to do.
2 – Eating healthy may be expensive, but it might just be that I’m not a smart shopper.
3 – Just because I’m not a good cook doesn’t mean I can’t become one.
4 – I am somewhat spiritually fit, but that is no reason to not take care of the body that God gave me!
5 – I am a goodie-goodie, but I can do just as much damage to my body with food as alcohol and cigarettes can do.
6 – Everyone is stressed! But many people still make wise health choices.
7 – I know my momma died, but if I don’t take care of myself, I’ll follow in her footsteps. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.
And now it’s out there… for the whole world to see. Definitely feeling a bit vulnerable having put all this out here, but there is some accountability that accompanies the vulnerability, and that’s a good thing. To be able to do all that Christ has called me to do, I need to be healthy. When I feel better about myself, I’ll be a better wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, minister. It’s time to make a change – it’s time to stop making excuses.