Word of the Week

Lent is already half-way over and is anyone dragging like me? The days of self-reflection and self-discipline seem like too much at junctures like today when I'm ready to throw in the towel and just say, "What's the point?"

I haven't been able to keep a Lenten discipline for several years now, but I'm hoping this year will be different. Not just for the sake of saying I've kept it, but because I know it is good for me. Really good in fact.

For the past couple Lents, I've pledged to start something new like adding more exercise into my life, and have found myself failing miserably.  While the guilt of not doing what I said seemed to nag deeply in me, nothing changed. I've not be a great example maker in the practice of being self-focused during this 40 day (or 46 day if you count the Sundays) period of preparation of Easter.

But, feeling some new gusto this year, I opted to go back to the traditional "give something up" practice for Lent again. As I thought of what I might choose to do, I tried to be more intentional than in the past. What impulsive habit could I give up? What could I withhold that might actually make me think about the larger purpose of Lent altogether?

I chose to give up Diet Coke.

Seems simple enough, of course. Almost comparable to the popular "I'm giving up chocolate" for Lent idea.  But, for me, it's not. 

Giving up Diet Coke, as a non-coffee drinker, is helping me understand how dependant I was on caffeine to get through the day. Giving up Diet Coke is helping me make more intentional choices altogether with my eating. Giving up Diet Coke, I know is making my kidneys happy with me as my water consumption has hit a life-time high since Lent began. Today I am really craving soda I'm tired of drinking water ALL the time. I really can't wait for Lent to be over. I'm ready for the "normal" patterns of life and enjoyment to return.

But for those of us on  this Lenten journey together as a people of faith, we're not to the finish line yet. Palm Sunday is still more two weeks away. Now is the time when the "joy" of the discipline really kicks in. What might this season be seekign to teach us?

Of course, living in Lent is greater than drinking or not drinking soda, giving up chocolate or fasting on Fridays-- it is about Jesus and spending this set a part time growing closer to him. I always tell my congregation who about this time start asking for "more joyful music" or "less depressing scriptures" that we must stay the course if we want the joy of Easter to be ours.

For this reason, I appreciate the wisdom of this word from the current pope-- though I may disagree with him on many social issues-- I hear such grace in this description of the season:

"Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and in this way to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what path we must take in life... Each year, Lent offers us a providential opportunity to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters." - Pope Benedict XVI

So, as we all keep living Lent-- even if we've already fallen off the discipline wagon and are preparing to get back on-- let seek truth with the time of Lent we have left. Truth about ourselves and ultimately truth then about God. I know it will all be worth it soon enough!

Here we are, already deep into Lent preparing for the second Sunday of the season this week. Yes, even Baptists (at least some of us) celebrate it too.

Is Lent all about just giving something up and not cheating? Is Lent just about restraining words of exclamation, “Allueias” in worship? Is Lent just a time of confession and repentance where we come to church to feel bad about ourselves? Or is it something deeper?

Growing up in a tradition that did not celebrate Lent (lent to me was that fuzzy stuff you find in the dryer) still feel the observance of this season is seeping into me. I know I"m still figuring it out. Afterall, Lent is something that you practice.

The first year I observed Lent, right after graduating from college, I acted as though the Lent disciplines were a race. Forty days of self-sacrifice: "Game on!" I said. I gave up soda that year and as much as I really wanted to cheat, I abstained day after day with hopes of finishing strong and satisfied with “accomplishment” of Lent on Easter morn. But, the more I’ve practiced and preached about Lent, these past several years, I’ve realized that words like “accomplishment” or “sacrifice” are not as much about “Lent” as we might have thought.

This year as a corporate community at Washington Plaza, we are observing Lent with the theme “Promises in the Night: Sitting with Jesus in the Dark Night of the Soul.” In worship we’ll be combining gospel readings about the last days of Jesus on earth with some of the most hopeful promise texts of the Old Testament as a way of sitting with Lent in a new way this year. We’ll consider the darkness because we’ve all been to the darkness, if we aren’t sitting with it right now.  This week's promise is: "I wil remember you."

So, besides encouraging you to come to corporate worship as often as your schedule allows (in Reston or wherever you are)—to explore ideas of promises, darkness and waiting with one another’s soul: I also want to challenge you to not try to conquer Lent this year. No matter what your Lent practices may be let this be a year that we simply sat with Lent. Let us not hurry. May we claim that the darkness as ok, for a time. Let us not be afraid. Let us simply allow the promises of God arrive through cracks, bit by bit. I believe if we do so, by time we get to Easter, there’re be quite a party going on at the church on the Plaza (and elsewhere) because the joy of our light will overflow!

"From ashes you came and ashes you shall return." Let Lent tary on.