by Rev. Andy DeBraber
Around the dinner table Monday, while Liz was at women’s chorus rehearsal, I raised the subject of Lent with Anna (age 10) and Ezra (age 7). As we were approaching our church’s annual Mardi Gras Chili Supper the following night and Ash Wednesday after that, they were curious.
They were especially taken with this idea that someone – them even! – might give something up for Lent, which runs from Ash Wednesday (Feb. 17) until Easter on April 4. What does that mean? Why would anyone do that? What might people give up?
So I did my best to explain to them:
Ø It’s a way of remembering and being united with Jesus, who gave up many things to bring abundant life to people, particularly in this season by going to the very centers of religious and political powers in Jerusalem. He went there to speak truth to power and live out his mission of love and justice for all people.
Ø In giving things up, we are reminded of the many blessings we have. We then are not only grateful but work and pray that all might have what is needed for a rich and delightful life.
Ø Each time we think of or desire that thing we’ve given up is an opportunity for prayer – for remembering that we are in the presence of God, for holding others, and for sticking to our mission in life.
Ø Sometimes we have to give up things – even good things – for the sake of great things. Moving through Lent to Easter is a time of honing our focus and letting our light shine even brighter in world, seeking both self-fulfillment and the greater good of all.
Ø Depending what is given up, we are reminded that we have control over our bodies and actions – not vice versa. We become re-empowered.
Just as valuable, I told them, is taking on some kind of practice during Lent, such as time set aside for prayer or reading or journaling, working in a specific way for justice in the world, or writing and calling people with words of encouragement or reconciliation.
Ezra was the first to come up with his Lenten practice. “I know,” he said, “I’ll give up dilly-dallying!”
And a few minutes later: “I’ll be praying a lot when it’s time to go get in the car.”
Anna, in her typical and beautiful first-born, responsible, and spiritually hungry way, wanted badly to give something up but couldn’t think of anything. Resisting the urge to make some suggestions, I told them that I was taking on two practices for Lent. I am drinking only water and coffee (after first contemplating giving up coffee, which I’ve done in the past) and will create a list of five things each day for which I’m grateful.
The next night, Fat Tuesday (they understood clearly that this is the time to do all those things you’re about to give up), as we were passing out beaded necklaces at the Chili Supper, Anna had a thought about what to give up.
“Maybe I could give up jewelry for Lent,” she said. “I do wear a lot of jewelry.”
Again, resisting the urge to comment, I took that in and let her sit with it awhile. It is something she would consider daily and a luxury many don’t have.
Our series of messages in Lent is titled “Bare Necessities.” We will be focusing on making the journey to the most powerful of places, both in ourselves and in the world. If we are going to “live fully…and have the courage to be who God has made us to be,” we must set some things aside.
The season of Epiphany has been a time of considering our purpose and mission in the world: What is it that I am do best? What is it that I enjoy most? In what direction do I feel pulled or called? What is my mission in the world?
In Lent, we act on these epiphanies, these realizations. We are offered the choice to leave behind the good for the great. We are asked to consider, as we approach that most powerful place, what is most valuable and necessary for the journey? Who and what do I wish to become and what do I wish to set aside?
Giving something up or taking something on can be a part of that practice. Or it can be a reminder to center our attention on that journey and ongoing process of growth.
Coming home on Ash Wednesday, Anna had settled on her practice for Lent: “I’m giving up complaining,” she proudly proclaimed. She and a friend are doing this together – always a great idea for spiritual practices.
What will your practice be this Lent? And with whom?