Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which signals the beginning of Lent. For those who don’t know, Lent is the 40-day time period leading up to Easter Sunday. (In reality, it’s 45 days because Sundays are still supposed to be observed as a Sabbath.) Interestingly enough, Lent is not a tradition we find in the bible, but it was created by the church to help Christ-followers to prepare for Easter, and remind us Christians of the life and sacrifice of Jesus—specifically his 40-day fasting and temptation in the desert before he began his public ministry. (Read Luke 4:1-13 to get the whole story of that encounter.) Traditionally, Christians would fast daily until sundown, and they would give up all forms of meat–except for fish–on Fridays.
Lent is often perceived as a time of grueling self-sacrifice due to the whole fasting until sundown thing. Today, however, most of us just give up coffee or sweets. Tough life. Occasionally, though, Lent is taken as a more serious opportunity to combat habits like excessive consumption of food or alcohol, an addiction to pornography, or excessive spending of money. Whatever one decides, the goal behind the sacrifice is to prompt a time of prayer whenever you find yourself tempted to indulge in these activities. (e.g. If you normally go get a coffee at 10 am on Mondays, instead of buying a coffee, you spend those 15 minutes praying and reading scripture. Repeat as often as you get coffee.) It’s funny–well, kind of sad actually–but in my experience most people hear this challenge and are immediately intimidated by the idea of going without coffee for that long. Some people are legitimately addicted to coffee, and would be straight-up jerks for 40 days if they gave it up. To all of you who are in this position: by all means, keep drinkin’ the jo. I think Jesus would rather have us be able to love the people around us than try to observe Lent and be hurtful.
HERE’S AN IDEA, though. Lent doesn’t have to just be a somber time of sacrifice. It can also be a time of devoting ourselves to some new or different practice that also reminds us of Jesus. For example, I am a person who connects with God through music. So for lent last year, I decided to pick up learning how to play piano. I did my best to devote at least 30 minutes a day to sitting down and studying some aspect of the piano. Instead of dreading my bible and prayer time because it was a reminder of not being able to have something that I wanted, I looked forward to it because I was finally doing something that I had wanted to do for a while. Maybe for you this means getting into running or learning to crochet. The only suggestion I have is that it be something you can do while praying.
Now, to the people out there who are thinking, “Well, that’s not truly observing Lent because we are supposed to suffer like Jesus did,” I have news for you: WE ARE NOT JESUS. If you really want to be traditional with it, though, go ahead and give something up. I am all for challenging ourselves.
In fact, here is my challenge to you: Think of something you want to pick up over this season of Lent. Plan out when and where you will engage this activity, and try to do it at a time of day when you are most likely to follow through. For most of us, this means not late at night or early in the morning. Give God your best time of the day. He deserves it.
Also, if you are someone who struggles with a more serious problem, like an addiction to pornography, alcohol, or excessive spending, it’s time to start working on it. I encourage you to take Lent as an opportunity to invite God and your community into these areas of your life. Find someone you can talk to about it. Make plans to avoid putting yourself in situations where you often fail, and, most importantly, when you find yourself wanting to engage in these activities, PRAY. Ask God to help you resist giving in. And have grace with yourself. You’re not perfect. Yet.
Finally, let me know how it goes. Leave a comment.
Chris Sherman, UMin Student Leadership Coordinator
You would think that blogs are for brilliant thoughts. Well try this one on for size: It rains a lot in Seattle. For as long as I have lived in the northwest, you might wonder how I have not yet come to this realization. Twenty-three years old now, I think I might be on to something. The rain can be an extremely depressing thing. For what seems like two thirds of the year, we deal with the rain. Any good Portlander or Seattleite makes sure they have plenty of rain gear. We have boots, fleeces, soft shell jackets, umbrellas, rain slickers; the list goes on. We do a lot to protect from the rain. To those reading this, I am guessing you have all experienced what it is like to experience a rain storm without having anything to protect yourself. Your clothes are soaking, your socks are wet and each subsequent step gets a little squeakier. Over time you realize how heavy you are weighed down because of the rain. It is an unpleasant experience.
It is not instinctive to stand in the rain. Our natural reaction is to get out of it as soon as we can. The less we get wet, the better off we are. We run to any source of cover we can to find a sense of shelter. Sooner or later, we have to step back into the rain whether by choice or not. Sometimes we are lucky enough to avoid it, but it is inevitable that we will have to deal with the rain once again. The last thing we want to do it let the rain cover us.
Ever feel like you are just fleeing from the rain in life? I do. In fact, I do it all the time. My guess is you do too. There is a lot of hurt in our worlds that take on the form of “rain.” We don’t want to deal with pain. Particularly, trying to avoid the pain of losing someone you love. We run away pretending that we are going to be okay. We try everything we can to find shelter. We take on more hours at work; we go to the gym more often and even study harder for classes just so we don’t have to deal with the hurt. When those forms of shelter aren’t enough we turn to others to fulfill our need to get out of the rain. Drinking, Sex, partying, you name it. Any form of shelter is good for now. No matter the rain we are experiencing, it is the shelters we are desperately seeking in order to stop the rain. The truth is that shelters don’t stop the rain.
“So what do we do? Should be never step into shelter? That sounds stupid Michael.” I agree that would be foolish. But I urge you to step into a shelter that is sustainable. Step into a shelter that you know can ultimately withstand the fierce and unceasing type of rain. For me, that shelter is found in community of people that can engage the rain with you. I might even challenge you to find that shelter in a relationship with Jesus. How you do that might be for another blog entry, but hear it from someone who has sought out a lot of different types of shelter to deal with hurt: There is comfort and warmth in a shelter built on Jesus and his friends.
My final thought for this blog: As much as the rain hurts, there is something good about the rain. Something life giving and cleansing that makes the rain worth all the trouble. As depressing as it can be, there is something liberating about standing still in the rain. It is a unique feeling to surrender to the storm and lets the rain fall on you. If you can stomach country music you might know the song by Luke Bryan that says, “Rain is a good thing.” It is. Rain produces crop. Rain makes things grow. Likewise, it is the same in your heart. It is the rain that can lead to growth. Healing, time and good shelter are certainly a part of that process. Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday. We cannot control the rain. Sometimes you have to be in the rain to get out of it. So have courage and stand in it.
By Michael W, UMin Intern